Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods dominated by the car, without a mix of uses and housing types, tend to lack both diversity and a sense of community. They consign those who drive to endless shuttle trips, and those who don't — the young and old — to dangerous and unpleasant attempts to cross busy streets. They create sprawl and inefficient forms of infrastructure.

Outdoor café in the Yamhill District of Portland.

In human-scale neighborhoods, a wide Shelter For All is clustered around one or more well-defined neighborhood centers which support jobs, commercial activity, and a range of amenities. The neighborhood is scaled to the pedestrian, offering sufficient variety within a five to fifteen minute walk — a quarter to half mile — to sustain lively streets and gathering places. It offers a gradient of density, from open spaces to high-density commercial cores. The layout of pathways, streets, and transportation corridors minimizes conflict between walking, biking, and driving, and provides effective and affordable Transit Access to other neighborhoods and regional centers.

Neighborhoods are the most significant building blocks of Compact Towns and Cities. Their physical design can greatly enhance Community and Civic Society, and their spectrum of jobs and housing types can support Social Equity. Without vibrant neighborhoods, towns and cities are split into single-use zones — housing here, retail and office there, manufacturing at the margins — which each lose their character. Emerging Materials Cycles and Green Building techniques make it possible to create neighborhoods with a vibrant mix of residential, retail, office, and light-industrial land-uses which are free of water, soil, or air contamination.

Such a mix of land-uses, combined with decentralized Renewable Energy production, pockets of Agriculture, Resource Efficiency, and participation in the urban Ecological Infrastructure can help support diverse Local Economies.

As neighborhoods change, small parcels of land and old buildings constantly become available for new uses. These parcels and buildings can be used to repair and renew pieces of the urban fabric and provide a better mix of housing types for residents. This revitalizes neighborhoods; makes full use of existing infrastructure and services; increases density; and provides a sense of history, place, and Cultural Preservation. Using green building techniques to retrofit a building saves construction materials and preserves land, and can produce spaces which are healthy and vibrant. Infill, which can include small second units in backyards, duplexes, small rowhouses, and related types, offers similar advantages, but must be performed carefully, and in a way that respects the character of the neighborhood.

Adaptive re-use of brownfield sites can transform contaminated industrial sites — often posing significant health hazards — from wastelands into thriving new residential and commercial developments. Such sites are typically located in urban cores and have excellent infrastructure in place, giving them a pivotal role in the renewal of towns and cities. Successful brownfield reclamation provides economic benefits through revitalization, new employment opportunities, an increase in the tax-base, and a decrease in environmental health risks. It decreases pressure for sprawl and Greenfield development.

Take the neighborhood as the central building block of towns and cities. Make each neighborhood safe for pedestrians, with a vibrant mix of activities within a five to fifteen-minute walk. Provide a gradient of density, from parks to commercial centers. Ensure effective transit access, and create opportunities for informal gathering places. Continually recycle parcels and buildings that have become underutilized.