Neighborhoods: How do we Define Them

The meanings of the word are strictly contextual. So, it can change according to the context it is used in, but usually, the word is used when discussing a person’s home surroundings.

The surface meaning of the word neighborhood is well understood by all. As the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover, it can be also said for words as well, as some words essence can’t be understood just by the surface meaning.

But today, we will try to discuss everything we can that revolves around the word neighborhood. So, let us begin the journey and discover what the word neighborhood has to offer.

What Is The Meaning Of The Word Neighborhood?

Let us tackle the basic dictionary level meaning of the word neighborhood. The dictionary helps us clear a few things that revolve around the word neighborhood, those are:
• It is a noun
• It tells us about a district where people live
• It tells us about the immediate surrounding environment
• It geographically means a defined area whose distance from a given point is less than a specified value
• Some synonyms of the word are:
 Area
 Locale
 Vicinity
 Quarter
 District
• It means a community or a district within a city or a town
• It means they are surrounding a particular person, place or an object
• It means an area that surrounds a person’s home

So usually, when the word neighborhood is applied, the first thing that pops in mind is the persons, objects, or places surroundings.
But is that it is that only what the word signifies?
No! so let us see what more the word neighborhood has to offer us.

Neighborhood Origin

The concept of neighborhood has been utilized since ancient times as people tended to live close by in sections of area for practical, economic, sociological, and practical reasons.

These cluster settlements are the roots of the formation of towns, villages, cities, and more. Each neighborhood is defined by its definitive physical and social characteristics. Thus after analyzing history, it has been conceptualized and given meaning to in the 1900s.

Since then, neighborhoods have held great significance for city planners, urban designers, and architects for a long time. This is because neighborhoods have always signified a powerful idea in the mind of practionaires and theoreticians.

The concept behind neighborhoods has changed and shuffled over time to cater to the changing circumstances. But the basis of the idea behind neighborhood remains the same as it is seen as a solution to urban social problems.

This might seem confusing as thinking of a neighborhood as a solution to a problem seems uncanny. But it has been used by many as the local community ties started deteriorating over time.

Neighborhood A System

The idea of neighborhood originated as a solution as it provided with clear physical boundaries, the communal pattern of activities, and organized local institutions.

Neighborhoods are seen as building blocks for the construction of urban settlements and plays an essential role in the construction of a modern city.
It holds significance politically and economically as it helps to form an explanation of urban components and helps in defining the suburban development. Neighborhoods thus bind the ideological disposition and the production practice together.

Neighborhoods thus were formed on the idea of reviving a functioning community. The concept of a neighborhood can be dated back to ancient times, where physical traces of the idea of a neighborhood can be found in the constructional patterns of the ancient cities.

This helped in conforming ideas of new modern cities. As the need to find equilibrium in the production and workforce facilities is necessary for economic growth, the design of specific urban residential areas, therefore, has social significance.

In the construction of a modern city, planning and architecture have evolved into the principal instruments that contribute to social change. Therefore, the idea of neighborhood holds significance in the planning, expansion, and more of a modern city.

Neighborhood An Idea

The idea behind the neighborhood just doesn’t revolve around its construction and separation between areas but also has substantial meaning to it. A neighborhood is defined as a design that is part of a larger whole but is also a system in itself.

This might be complex, but the neighborhood has a system that has specific functions. The neighborhood is just not a house design but can be recognized as a unit that has its own logic.

The idea is that a neighborhood helps in generating close human and communal relations and also help provide comfort and convenience.

Not only does it help in forming relations, but it forms a manageable environment that is not possible as a whole city but can be done on a small scale. Neighborhoods thus offer efficient control and also helps in providing social benefits.

The neighborhood is thus an idea that roots from two places one is physical roots, and the other is standardization. The physical roots help define the physical boundaries, and that is set to transform the living ways of people through spatial manipulation.

While on the other hand, the standardization that gives clear criteria and scientific analysis to form concrete and objective foundations of the area.
Thus giving us a common approach that can help build the concrete base. Thus the neighborhood becomes a planning tool to organize a city for the communal well-being of society.

So, at last, In a simpler word, the roots of neighborhood originated in ancient times that gave the modern planners an idea to form societies through spatial manipulation. Although this is the abstract idea behind the word neighborhood, the idea has played a crucial role.

The concept of neighborhood has held importance in the planning and designing of urban areas. Although the idea of the neighborhood is still not fixed or uniform and it keeps changing over time.

The Concept Of Neighborhood

The concept and model of the neighborhood unit can be dated back to 1929 when Clarence A. Perry’s publication came out that gave an ideal layout of the neighborhood unit. The model provided specific guidelines with some of which were:

  • The population size of 5000-6000 pupils
  • Elementary school with a capacity of 1000-1200 pupils with a walking distance less than a quarter of a mile for every child
  • A low-density dwelling with 10 families per acre
  • Neighborhood area about 160 acres
  • 10 percent area is reserved for recreation like shopping facilities, library, etc
  • Internal streets being limited to service access for residents neighborhood.

More specific guidelines were then carried out by several others that gave a general pattern of the neighborhood. Thus, the principals identified by Perry were recommended by most planners designing the neighborhood across the globe.

The neighborhood unit idea was thus readily embraced by the world because of its community idealism. The idea has since evolved and adapted in the building of new cities.

The idea is also criticized equally, as some say the neighborhoods are found too large to promote by neighborly relations or promote any kind of social behavior.

As it seems too impractical and too child-centered. Although criticized still, the neighborhood unit remained an indispensable tool in the development of an organized city.

What Is The Neighborhood?

Answering this question is still confusing as even knowing so much, there is still a little consensus on what neighborhood really means. Mostly when the word is said, it usually comes under the meaning of local communities of a place.

The neighborly interactions between people that may be good or bad, depending on the area, define the word neighborhood. It is mostly defined due to its physical and social characteristics. So the answer to’ what is a neighborhood?’ remains confusing.

Well, the right answer is that it is necessary to know what we are dealing with, whether its 10000 people or a 100. The scales help in forming the necessary framework and form the dynamics of a neighborhood and its characteristics too.

The understanding of the scales helps in better depicting an effecting action that can be taken for achieving public satisfaction.

Some areas are already defined by purely natural boundaries. They can be geographical or community boundaries. In an area that has many challenges, like having a white majority estate with an Asian majority council can be difficult. As what will the policy of neighborhood be, it can then be vague as to what to do best.

Thus, there are two sets of boundaries that are seen in a neighborhood, geographical boundaries and social boundaries.

These two sets are different from each other, and thus forming a clear definition of a neighborhood remains a bit vague. The clarity of the word is not easily depicted due to the many factors affecting its essence.

What Is The Difference Between A Community And A Neighborhood?

Neighborhood and community are deemed interchangeable and synonymous with each other. However, that is not the case. After understanding the origin of the neighborhood then comes the problem of differentiating between neighborhood and community.

Neighborhood Community
It refers to people living close by or in the vicinity of each otherIt means a group of people living in a specific area or a district
It tells us about people living close to each other It also refers to ethnic groups living together like the black community  
It is basically referring to the geographical areaIt also refers to specific groups like the business community  
It means a surrounding area or a region It is used to describe the community as community college, hospital, etc.  
It is more for the surrounding area While the community is more in the sense of groups of people  
Has geographical boundariesDoes not have geographical boundaries  
Has more physical sense involved in itHave more social implications involved in it

This helps us differentiate between the word community and neighborhood. Although social boundaries set in a neighborhood might make the meaning of it lean towards a community.

But still, there is a clear distinction between them as a community is not geographically dependent while a neighborhood is.

Neighborhood And Neighborliness

The word neighborhood usually evokes different happy feelings. This is because that was what the idea behind it was. It was to evoke neighborliness in people creating a friendly and safe environment for the people.

The idea of the neighborhood took root to create a community like an environment where the people interact and create a local shared public environment.

There was an assumption that the members would be willing participants who will reciprocate in engaging and collective actions. Helping each other in small limited ways. The neighborliness of the people being the indicator of the success and failure of a neighborhood.

Neighborliness was the key factor here, not the richness or poverty as the social cohesion and satisfactory interactions are the key to success.
The local plannings, participating in local activities like belonging to the neighborhood watch, etc. helps to bring the people together.

The cohesive nature of the people and the type of residents can help to determine the type of neighborhood you are a part of.

Neighborhood Types

Neighborhood in this era can be categorized into two basic types the good and the bad. The good neighborhood is the one that makes you feel safe and secure. Also, it will be refined, looks pretty on the outside, and has easily accessible areas that you want.

Obviously, a good neighborhood definition might differ for a family and a single person, but the basic essence of a good neighborhood is a good environment plus safety. Isn’t that the image of a dream world or a romantic comedy world?

While like the movies, a bad neighborhood is the one that doesn’t feel secure, which makes you feel scared when walking alone. Bad neighborhoods are mostly synonymous with graffiti-covered walls, garbage on the streets, and old broken houses. Isn’t that the image of a horror story or a crime story about to begin?

After discussing so much about what a neighborhood is now, let us step in the world and see how, in this era, we should select a neighborhood for ourselves.

Obviously, movies are inspired by reality, so if you want to know what kind of neighborhood you are a part of seeing the table below.

Good neighborhood Bad neighborhood
Clean environment, only cookie clutterRandom garbage everywhere
Clean walls, graffiti only with permissionThick graffiti without owner’s permission
Maintained housesDilapidated or abandoned houses
No bars of windows and doorsBars on doors and windows
Mayor may not have fencesFences with be-aware signs
Lack of locks on mailboxes etc.Many locks everywhere, including air conditioning units and such
Lack of broken car windows in parking lotsParking lots with broken car windows
High employment rateHigh unemployment rate
No homeless people aroundMany homeless people roaming around
No unattended kidsUnattended kids
No late night noisesLate-night noises
Low crime rateHigh crime rate
Less police have been seen around the areaPolice often have been seen around the area
No illegal activity like drugs and moreIllegal activities like drug dealing
No gangs are seenGangs are seen
No pawn shops, check-cashing storesMany pawnshops, check cashing stores
Has proper basic infrastructureDoes not have proper basic infrastructure
You can get home deliveriesYou cannot get home deliveries of food
Has major brands storesDo not have major brand stores
Have malls, retail shops within walking distanceDoes not have malls or retail shops within walking distance
Has luxurious cars, or fairly new carsHas broken or used or very old cars
No freeways cutting through the neighborhoodMight have freeways cutting through
People do not have loud or weird clothingPeople might have loud or weird clothing

The table above might help in depicting what kind of neighborhood you are associated too. Obviously, there is no perfect neighborhood, a mix of stuff might work for you, so when you are selecting a home to stay in. It depends on what you want for yourself.

Although great neighborhoods don’t necessarily mean good neighbors as that is a whole other topic in itself.

However, the list does in helping you narrow down your search when looking for a neighborhood. It is necessary that you look for certain points during different times of the day, as it will help provide a clearer picture.

You would see that a good neighborhood would have adults and children on the front porches working on the yards or playing during twilight hours (midday). You should notice the lawns and see that they are well kept and maintained.

A versatile blend of people is also good enough with well-kept buildings and no abandoned cars to find a moderate to a good neighborhood.

Also, you will have to evaluate which neighborhood matches your lifestyle, if you’re a bachelor, you will have different requirements then a family. But as a whole, both of the individuals will want a good neighborhood.

These points will help you see to your safety as it is the topmost priority.

How To Make Your Neighborhood Great?

So, after selecting a neighborhood that is best suited for you, it is your duty to contribute to the neighborhood. There are multiple ways that you can do to improve your neighborhood. As everyone’s individual actions count.
To contribute to your neighborhood, the major thing you can do is become a good neighbor. So, here is a detailed list of things that can help create a happy environment:

  • Be welcoming and welcome new neighbors with a smile, introduce yourself.
  • Help your neighbors when possible in carrying large grocery bags or heavy items if you can.
  • Invest in a bark collar if your dog barks all night and clean up after their messes.
  • Check on their mail if asked so that they don’t have a paper pile up when they are out.
  • Keep your property maintained, not for your neighbors only but for yourself too.
  • Be friendly and ask your neighbors before throwing a party

After contributing as a good neighbor, there are also ways in which you can contribute to make your neighborhood a safe place at large. A few steps will help in making your neighborhood a safer place, they are:

1.Report a crime, whether it is small or large, report any kind of crime as soon as possible, like graffiti, vandalism acts, etc. don’t assume it is someone else’s responsibility. Just do it.

2.Report any kind of noncriminal acts. You should report any kind of nuisance act like junked lawns, abandoned old mattresses, broken furniture, and more. Don’t think someone else will do it; you take a step and do it yourself.

3.Make sure you don’t create any opportunity for crime. Lock your cars and doors, don’t leave your valuables outside, maintain your lawns so that there are no places to hide. Make your windows hidden, make your home such that it looks like it has eyes on the neighborhood.

4.Meet your neighbors, this helps as you will introduce yourself to your neighbors. This will make sure that you know your neighbors and they know you. Knowing at least 10 neighbors will help create a safer environment in your block.

5.Know your neighbor’s children’s friends. Having an eye on your family is important, but having an eye on the neighbors is too. This will help create confidence in case of emergencies.

6.Walk around the block, this way, you will be able to interact with the neighbors. Try to promote the idea of a neighborhood watch in your block and try to get more involved to create a safer environment.

7.Pick up garbage near your home, by doing this, you are not only promoting a cleaner environment but also help in creating a no littering zone as it won’t attract people who are likely to litter.

8.Organize a neighborhood organization, this will not only help in bringing the neighbors together, but this interaction will help in case of emergencies and creating a safer environment.

Neighborhood Today

Today the neighborhood concept is generally a fluid one. For some purposes, it is used entirely for the physical process while in others entirely socially. So the idea of a neighborhood with its fluidity has thus proved to be important.

In this fast-paced society with social media running its course neighborhoods are not what they used to be.

They have lost the collectiveness that it used to have and the idea needs to be revived according to many people because, with the help of an organized neighborhood, many functions can be achieved effectively, that is:

Health: social support networks can help increase the longevity

Safety: Safety is a major issue that is faced by many, the interaction will help reduce crime rates as people who are alone are easy targets

Economy: as most businesses have local beginning and neighbors help in reliable job information and helps in contributing local economics

Food: it helps to increase the growth of local foods Care-giving: friendly neighborhood environments help in raising friendly and happy children

These points may not be so convincing but still have some relevance. As care-giving, socialization, and healthy childhood are the attractive features of the neighborhood concept.

Although neighborhoods are planned by architects and so they are still generated by normal people with their everyday actions.

Although people today are forgetting the relevance of these interactions and so they need to be revived to help create an environment that can provide security and comfort to the individual

Neighborhood – Final Words

With the detailed view of the neighborhood, a number of things should have cleared by now, they are:

  1. The neighborhood has several elements that help in making a neighborhood good or bad.
  2. The concept of neighborhood is an essential building block of creating plans for a workable city environment.
  3. The people in the neighborhood contribute to the level of neighborliness and more that could be achieved by a neighborhood.
  4. The concept or meaning of the neighborhood still remains vague in some areas.
  5. Neighborhood and community are different. Choosing a neighborhood that is good for you depends on what you want.
  6. That how you can contribute to a great neighborhood and be better.
  7. The good neighborhood does not necessarily mean that there would be good neighbors. And how neighborhoods are progressing in this era.

After having viewed all this, a general idea of what neighborhood implies and can be seen as is cleared. The idea that stemmed from the 1900s still holds significance and will continue for a long time.

The neighborhood has long been the physical and social building blocks of urban cities, and the concept of it has been a well-established element that is now widely accepted by all. The neighborhood has thus been deemed the symbol of the perseverance of social and cultural values. CWP

Community Watch Paper blogs:

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  1. Smith, M., Smith, M., and profile, V. (2020). Why are neighbourhoods important?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Feb. 2020].
  2. (2020). Ten Ways to Immediately Improve Your Neighborhood | Pueblo, CO – Official Website. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Feb. 2020].
  3. Compare the Difference Between Similar Terms. (2020). Difference Between Neighborhood and Community | Compare the Difference Between Similar Terms. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Feb. 2020].
  4. Kallus, R., and Law-Yone, H. (2000). What is a Neighbourhood? The Structure and Function of an Idea. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 27(6), pp.815-826.
  5. How can neighbourhoods be understood and defined? Published: August 2010 Publication Type: Publication The Young Foundation

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