Arterial Killed the Neighborhood

The title of this blog post states that the arterial killed the neighborhood for no other reason than hearing the song ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ on the radio after an AIA SDAT meeting last week. The truth is that the modern-day street classification system is responsible as a whole, not just the arterial in isolation.

As I referenced earlier, the title of this blog post came to me after a meeting with Lee Quill and the other members of the Steering Committee in a pre-SDAT meeting for the AIA last week. During the meeting, I was asked my opinion regarding how (geographically) a neighborhood should be defined. My response to this was probably more abstract than they were expecting. Essentially, I stated that I did not think that a neighborhood really could be defined by physical hard boundaries. Prior to the modern-day street classification system, our neighborhoods were defined by ‘a Great, Good Place’, or a Third Place (References from Ray Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place. This was generally a place of gathering such as a school, coffee shop, or a park.

The neighborhoods blur for the most part without definitive boundaries. Think about your own cities and consider the neighborhoods constructed pre-World War II, I’m sure you can think of many neighborhoods with non-definitive boundaries.
This is not to say that we cannot create neighborhoods today. Often it is a matter of scale that the typical 80-acre subdivision cannot accomplish with physical barriers such as perimeter fencing, disconnected streets, collectors, arterials, and freeways. More often than not, these barriers are caused by antiquated zoning codes requiring separation or over engineering for the ease of the automobile (as is the case of the street classification system).

At Highlands Garden Village in Denver, the transition between the existing neighborhood and the new homes is handled in a contextual manner.

I said ‘more often than not’ because there are certainly exceptions. The Holiday Neighborhood in Boulder, Colorado and the City of Boulder did a great job of blurring the boundaries to the south of the Holiday Neighborhood to incorporate a similar fabric of new homes. Opportunities are also present when a large master planned community is incorporated into a city, it has the opportunity to create a cohesive fabric. However, as you may have read in the New Economy blog series, my feeling are that new master planned communities are becoming endangered species.

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