The physical layout of urban neighborhoods, and the opportunities for jobs, services, learning, and involvement in government, can make a big difference to the quality of life for those living and working there.
Well designed neighborhoods can make a large difference to the quality of life of residents and visitors, can encourage less demand on energy and other natural resources, and can provide habitat for wildlife.
Neighborhood Public Space
As a public space, a neighborhood can allow people to feel part of their community, and build social contacts.
A pleasant walk to the neighborhood centre and public transport stop will encourage residents to visit the local, use public transport, and get physical exercise as part of their daily routine.
Local Jobs and Services
Locating a greater range of jobs and services within every neighborhood will allow more people to avoid the need for motorised transport, eg to travel beyond the neighborhood daily.
Locating a greater range of manufacturing and food production within neighborhoods to serve the needs of residents will reduce the need to freight in supplies from outside.
Liveable Neighbourhoods - Guiding New Developments for a More Sustainable Urban Future. Rebecca Armstrong & Glen Head. Sustainability in Western Australia. 2001.11
Liveable Neighbourhoods focus on neighborhood centres that provide employment, goods and services, leisure activities and the opportunity to meet and socialise.
The interconnected street network reduces the distance to the centre to an enjoyable 10-minute walk for most people.
The choice to walk or cycle should reduce automobile dependence. Less energy should be used as more journeys are completed on foot, eg to local (sometimes home-based) employment.
Homes are built to take advantage of good solar orientation.
A variety of housing densities can accomodate a variety of lifestyles.
Higher density around the neighbourhood centres can support local enterprises, services and public transport.
Sustainable Neighbourhoods. Sustainability and Environment. Victoria
The Neighbourhood Principles provide a strategic framework for planning residential subdivisions in urban areas throughout Victoria. They broadly support :
- Compact walkable neighbourhoods where neighbourhood centres support local services and facilities. Reduced car use is encouraged because public transport is easy to use and walking and cycling are promoted.
- Environmentally friendly development where lot layout and design supports more energy efficient dwellings.
- Diverse lot sizes and a range of lot types will be provided to better meet future community housing needs.
- Integrated water management that conserves our drinking water, reuses and recycles water, and locally manages the quality as well as quantity of urban run-off.
Liveable Neighbourhoods. Planning Commission. Western Australia
Liveable Neighbourhoods Principles
1. Town Structure
The town structure should be compact and well defined. It should consist of a clustering of highly interconnected neighbourhoods, which is mutually supportive of both neighbourhood centres and the town centre.
2. Neighbourhood Structure
A neighbourhood is typically defined as a 400-450m radius circle (5-minute walking distance) with a shop supplying daily needs, or another type of community focus, at its centre.
3. Neighbourhood Walkability
Walking is the most energy efficient mode of travel. It can be encouraged by an interconnected street network that provides pedestrians with a choice of routes at intersections to enable access to neighbourhood facilities via a safe and attractive environment.
4. Walkability to Facilities and Public Transport
As a measure of efficiency, at least 60% of the dwellings in a neighbourhood should be within a 400-450m walk of a neighbourhood centre or bus stop, or 800 m of a rail station.
5. Safety and Surveillance
To reduce opportunities for crime, a clear definition is required between public places and private backs. Development should provide frontages with windows and entrances onto the public realm.
The urban layout should respond to the current and future needs of society. Buildings and lots should be designed to be adaptable in order to accommodate either changes in land use or additions over time.
7. Environmentally and Culturally Responsive Design
Key environmental and cultural features should be identified and protected within the design.
8. Site Responsive Design - Character and Identity
Local identity should be complemented or created by responding to site features, context, landscape and views.
9. Cost and Resource Efficiency
The development should promote neighbourhood sustainability in terms of the efficient use of infrastructure, the promotion of affordable and energy efficient housing, and satisfying the daily needs of the residents through access to appropriate types of community facilities.
Neighbourly Stores Corner the Market in Convenience Shopping. William Verity. Sydney Morning Herald. 2002.7.19
Liverpool Council (Sydney) will allow people to set up shops in their homes in low density neighborhoods waiting for a local shopping centre to be built. "Shops can be set up in ordinary detached houses but must trade mainly in groceries, small goods and convenience items and primarily serve the surrounding area. They must be at least 500 metres from other shops and have a floor space of no more than 75 square metres."
Transit Oriented Development
Transit Oriented Development. RTD. Denver
Transit Oriented Development (TOD) focuses a mix of land-uses, such as residential, office, shopping, civic uses and entertainment within easy walking distance from a transit station (400 metres, 5-10 mins.). This mix of uses, combined with thoughtfully designed community spaces, plazas, etc., forms a vibrant village-like neighborhood where people can live, work and play. Such a village is compact in size, pedestrian-friendly in design, can be customized to offer a wide variety of housing options, with convenient access to services, jobs, and plenty of ways to get around.
Chard on the Green? Tim Holt, San Francisco Chronicle. 2005.10.2
In describing the self-sufficient neighborhoods of the future, Register speaks of "urban fractals," neighborhoods that will contain in microcosm all the elements of entire cities, including housing, jobs, schools, shops, entertainment, and access to nature - neighborhoods that minimize the need for auto or even transit use. "Today, when you look at a section of a city it's like looking at a person with an arm or leg missing," Register observes. "In the future, neighborhoods will read as an entire organism."
Nurturing Better Neighborhoods
How Governments Can Nurture Better Neighbourhoods. Mark Latham. The Age. 2003.8
In the era of globalisation, community matters more, not less. It is very hard to build trusting relationships in a globalised environment if we do not have a strong inner core of trust and social capital in our local neighbourhoods. How can we trust in strangers and answer the call of globalisation if we do not even know the name of our next-door neighbours?
People still care passionately about neighbourhoods and about community. They want to be involved with the things they can touch - the tangible things in their own neighbourhood where they can make a positive difference. So people still care about each other and there is a longing to belong in our society.
People do not necessarily talk about the massive expansion of free market forces or the massive expansion of government. They want the expansion of society, the expansion of community and the strong, trusting relationships between people to try to move against the recent trends whereby we have seen the breakdown of family and traditional institutions, an increase in loneliness and an increase in the number of sole-person households.
Government can facilitate social capital. Government should act as a facilitator, an enabler, to influence the social environment which gives people more opportunities to work together.
Government should [encourage community involvement in running local services] - the community housing, the community banks, the civic education, the parks, the recreation programs.
Social capital is not like some sort of asset or stock of goods - people cannot bank it. Unless people use their social capital, they lose it. You have to use it or lose it. People must have things to do and forums in which they can build trusting, cooperative relationships.
The second area for government action concerns building a serious agenda for lifelong learning. All the international research shows that highly educated, highly skilled societies have high levels of social capital. Why is this? Self-knowledge and the benefits of education help people to understand the positions of others and to trust in strangers.
The third agenda is to solve poverty. Where people live in conditions of material disadvantage they turn in socially. A new national campaign, indeed a new national war against poverty, would be a very important public policy initiative.
The fourth agenda is to cut down on commuter travelling time. People with busy lives do not have the time and capacity to do a lot of things locally if they are stuck in traffic jams day and night. We need to develop edge cities - move the jobs, the services, the infrastructure and the opportunities much closer to the urban fringe - and cut down commuter travelling time to give people the capacity to work in their neighbourhoods.
Urban design is another important initiative. Gosnells council, south of Perth, is redesigning urban form, working on the basis that a village-type urban design is going to foster greater community and greater neighbourhoods and provide a natural form of surveillance - someone walking past your home actually deters burglars and lowers the rate of crime.
Some private developers are moving in the direction of returning urban design to village principles. It is very important for social solidarity and social capital.
The sixth initiative is to recognise a natural limit on the market. Market forces sometimes can be destructive of social capital. For instance, individual employment contracts, individualistic arrangements in the workplace, obviously work against the collective solidarity of society.
There are some things that are the preserve of community, and sport is a good example. We have had too much commercialisation of sport. There are too many companies taking over the sporting organisations that used to be run by people at a local level.
The final area of public policy initiative is corporate social responsibility - building social partnerships, building bridges from the economic to the social and ensuring that we have much more than passive philanthropy in Australia.
I do not want executives writing out cheques on the 25th floor, thinking they have discharged their responsibilities to the disadvantaged at that point. I want them working face to face, developing and dedicating their skills to help people, to build relationships of trust across class barriers, across economic divides, and to build genuine partnerships and corporate social responsibility.
If we do not have strong community life and if we do not have a deep and active democracy, it is much easier for elites and minorities to take control of the system - for the system to be run by the few instead of the many.
We need the dispersal of power, and community building is an important part of that objective.
Neighborhoods and Obestity
Study Finds Poor Neighbourhoods May Promote Obesity. University of Melbourne. 2005.12
The local environment is having a powerful influence on body weight in Melbourne with women and men in disadvantaged areas weighing about 3kg more than those living in rich areas.
Associate Professor Anne Kavanagh, a University of Melbourne chief investigator on VicLanes, said the high number take-away food outlets in low socio-economic areas could be to blame for the high obesity rates. "A Melbourne study has shown that people in low socio economic areas have 2.5 times the exposure to fast food outlets."
"Living in low socio-economic areas is associated with lower levels of physical activity."
Dr Rob Moodie, CEO of VicHealth agrees individual behaviour is influenced by environmental and other factors. "Turning off the TV is a good start, but if you don't have a park or a playground within walking distance or a footpath to get you there, you are less likely to get off the couch,” he said.
Article: Weight and Place: A multilevel cross sectional survey of area-level disadvantage and overweight/obesity in Australia. (PDF)
Neighborhoods and Crime
Government Action Needed to Help Crime-Prone Areas. Don Weatherburn. Sydney Morning Herald. 2005.3.2
There is no doubt that economic and social disadvantage provide excellent breeding grounds for crime. Juvenile offenders are much more common in neighbourhoods with high rates of poverty, family breakdown, household crowding, residential instability and long-term unemployment.
It used to be thought that disadvantage causes crime because it motivates young people to offend. This could take the form of disadvantaged young people committing crime to overcome the gap between their "institutionalised expectations" and the legitimate means open to them to achieve them. Alternatively, disadvantaged juveniles get involved in crime to confer the "social status" on themselves they feel they are unable to obtain from society.
Yet the process is far subtler than this. Parents living in poverty, especially where they lack a supportive partner, are much more at risk of neglecting their children, poorly supervising them or disciplining them in a way that is harsh, erratic and inconsistent. This sort of parenting greatly increases the risk of juvenile involvement in crime.
The risk increases still further when juveniles who have been rendered susceptible to involvement in crime by poor parenting live in neighbourhoods where large numbers of juveniles are involved in crime. Here, juvenile crime is fuelled by support and encouragement from delinquent peers as well as by ready access to information [from peers] on how to commit crime and get away with it.
In the most crime-prone neighbourhoods these problems are compounded still further by factors such as boredom, alcohol abuse, poor job opportunities, low wages and a range of attractive criminal opportunities (such as empty, unguarded households, drug dealing or vulnerable commercial premises that open late at night).
Neighbourhoods like these are often characterised by long-standing tensions between residents and police.
In the short term, we have little choice but to apprehend persistent offenders in the hope that we can do something constructive to reduce their rate of offending or, if that fails, take them out of circulation for a while. The benefits may only be temporary and limited but it does at least give government the breathing space necessary to do something over the medium to longer term.
Medium term, police and other government agencies need to work with young people and residents to identify ways to reduce the opportunities and incentives to become involved in crime and improve police-community relations. Without good police-community relations, it is impossible for police to get the intelligence they need to identify persistent offenders and to enlist the aid of the community in preventing crime.
What about the longer term? There are two important strategies. First, federal and state governments need to pursue policies that limit the number and geographic concentration of families living in poverty. Second, state governments need programs and services that promote better parenting and reduce rates of child neglect and abuse.
Don Weatherburn is the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, and author of Law and Order in Australia: Rhetoric and Reality, published recently by Federation Press.
Neighborhoods and Crime
Crime in our Neighbourhoods: Myths and Realities. Adam Graycar. Australian Institute of Criminology
We cannot understand crime without understanding the community we live in, and the dynamics and changes which lubricate and confront it. We cannot underestimate the changes in the economy, in social policy, in technology, in family relations, and in particular the changes experienced by young people trying to sort out where they fit into a society in which the goal posts keep changing all the time.
Indigenous Australians and the Socioeconomic Status of Urban Neighbourhoods. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research. Australian National University.1996.8
Disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods and unemployment
The unfavourable economic times of the past twenty years have hit hardest in poor urban neighbourhoods, bringing a large drop in employment for all residents including Indigenous Australians. Residents of these disadvantaged neighbourhoods have been especially affected by:
- the loss of labouring jobs.
- the closing of many factories.
- the general lack of job opportunities in poor areas of the city.
In these poor neighbourhoods several factors create the development of an atmosphere which discourages people from looking for work:
- As the number of employed people declines, the opportunities to be informed about available jobs by employed friends and relatives also declines.
- Those who have been unemployed for a long time become discouraged and stop looking for jobs, and may even turn to crime.
- Employers may overtly discriminate against people from the poorer parts of a city.
- The inadequate public transport in the poor areas of cities hinders the unemployed in their job search. According to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey, lack of transport is the biggest problem for urban Indigenous people trying to find work.
WA Govt Pilots Networked Neighbourhoods. Steven Deare. Computerworld. 2003.8
The Western Australian government will this month formally announce a Web application project being piloted by 500 households that aims to ‘network’ the neighbourhoods of WA residents.
The Networked Neighbourhoods Web site helps Picton Waters [Bunbury] residents initiate and organise common-interest communities based on their local area. To find a community, a user selects a special interest from a menu, which generates a list of communities. Selecting a community then displays contact and meeting information such as conditions and location.
“Networked Neighbourhoods is about changing social structures,” said Jackie Gill, project manager at the [WA] Premier’s Office. “It’s about using the Internet to get people meeting locally by creating communities of common interests.
“We’re only six weeks into this but already we’ve got communities ranging from kids organising to play soccer in the street to victims of sexual assault,” she said.
While users can send messages to each other, there is no long-term facility to archive messages, nor are there discussion boards or chat services, as the purpose of the project is to get people meeting in person, Gill said.
Each resident also has a private ‘homepage’, which lists messages received, as well as a calendar to manage appointments.
Messaging is based on permissions to prevent spam, Gill said, and users’ e-mail addresses and personal details are kept hidden.
Networked Neighbourhoods could also help businesses, Gill said.
“Let’s say there’s a local plumbing community and you need to get your tap fixed,” she said. “You’d search for plumbing, opt into the community, choose your recipients, and send your message.
“Or, a plumber could advertise specials for part of the local area, and depending on your permission levels you might be able to take advantage of that.”
Networked Neighbourhoods also aims to improve government service delivery by allowing citizens to choose a customised information service. “An example is the Bunbury patient information centre,” Gill said. “We’ve created a community for this in Networked Neighbourhoods. The government can profile members who opt-in and send specific types of health information to those members.”
The catalyst for the project though was one of Gill’s own social experiences."This came out of my personal interest; coming from the bush to live in Perth as a single, working mum,” she said. “There’s no traditional social structure, no one inviting you to picnics on the weekend. This was when I was project manager of Online WA communities. So I thought I should be able to solve this problem.
“Phil Lord, a colleague of mine, was working on Online WA; the state government portal with channels like health, tourism and the like. “And we both thought, how can we make this citizen-centric? And Networked Neighbourhoods was the result,” she said.
The project will run until March, when the Office will decide whether there is a business case to expand Networked Neighbourhoods. “[In terms of technical capability], we would only need more servers to expand,” Gill said.