Monthly Archives: January 2008

Why Rate Neighborhood Design?

The selection of neighborhood designs in America grows more variegated every year. The models and forms of previous centuries are still with us, like big-city apartment blocks, small-town Main Streets, streetcar suburbs, and Levittown-style suburbs. In many places those neighborhoods continue to be very popular and successful.

In recent years those models have been modified, combined, and hybridized to yield a profusion of new neighborhood types in a variety of settings. They include gated McMansion enclaves, suburban high-rise superblocks, exurban townhouse pods, live-in shopping malls, new town centers, live/work/play downtown redevelopment, and so on.

Too often there isn’t enough consideration given to the long term in some of these developments. They are designed to sell well today, but it’s less clear whether they’ll be successful for generation after generation of residents — whether they’ll perform well in terms of quality of life, finances and sustainability, and adapt gracefully to changes in the larger economy, culture and environment.

This is where tools for evaluating the design and performance of neighborhoods can be useful. A variety of rating systems are available, such as checklists, scoresheets and performance measurements. A range of groups and constituencies are interested in these tools, including planners, developers, policymakers, researchers, investors, activists, and home buyers. Each of these groups has compelling yet somewhat different reasons to rate neighborhoods. The reasons for rating can be grouped into six broadly overlapping categories: communication, recognition, planning, marketing, research and investing.

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