What's in a Neighborhood?

Tom Vanderbilt examines the word “neighborhood,” a term "frequently invoked yet seldom analyzed". He traces attempts to define, redefine, strengthen and weaken the concept in modern urbanism. Is it obsolete or more important than ever?
November 8, 2013, 6am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"Neighborhoods often exist as much in the collective imagination as on urban ground, their borders shifting depending on who draws them," observes Vanderbilt. "Contrast a map of San Francisco neighborhoods produced by the municipal planning department with another effort—this one created by the city’s realtors’ association—and the activity becomes a children’s game of 'spot the differences.'”

In light of the different ways the term has been used and abused, he asks: "What is a neighborhood? How do neighborhoods relate to the larger city? How much influence do neighborhoods exert in their residents’ lives? And in an era of global cities and digital communities, do we even need neighborhoods?"

"Though their obsolescence has been prophesied at various points, neighborhoods remain a vital—perhaps the most vital—way of thinking about the modern city," he argues.

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Published on Thursday, November 7, 2013 in The Wilson Quarterly
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