Neighborhood Boundaries

PAS Report 141

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Information Report No. 141 December 1960

Neighborhood Boundaries

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Prepared by Jerrold R. Allaire

The concept of the city as a whole, containing a group of component neighborhoods is not new, nor is discussion of neighborhood related problems a recent advent to planners, sociologists, traffic engineers, realtors and others closely involved in the patterns of urban land use. In a paper presented to American City Planning Institute (the forerunner of the American Institute of Planners), Henry Wright said about neighborhood planning:1

The subject bristles with opportunities for research and discussion. Some of the implications are at least disturbing to certain methods of planning and regulation which have been accepted and ... gained by means of long effort and application and should, therefore, not be lightly tossed aside.

Mr. Wright wrote those words in 1931.

Thirty years later, the subject still "bristles with opportunities for research and discussion."

The main purpose of this report is to gather in a single reference the most important methods of neighborhood delineation and to examine how and to what extent they are used in the field. In attempting to achieve this, the report unavoidably covers controversial areas. The history of discourse and development of the neighborhood concept has not been without differences of opinion, both mild and stormy.


If the origin of the generally conceived neighborhood prototype can be traced to a single source, the credit (or blame), depending on one's point of view, goes to Clarence A. Perry. In a preliminary study in 1926 and in a report published by the Committee on the Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs in 1929,2 Perry enunciated his Neighborhood Theory. Its six basic principles were:

1. Major arterials and traffic routes should not pass through residential neighborhoods. Instead, these streets should provide the boundaries of the neighborhood.

2. Interior street patterns should be designed and constructed through use of cul-de-sacs, curved layout and light duty surfacing so as to encourage a quiet, safe, low volume traffic movement and preservation of the residential atmosphere.

3. The population of the neighborhood should be that which is necessary to support its elementary school. (When Perry formulated his theory, this population was estimated at about 5,000 persons; current elementary school size standards probably would lower the figure to 3,000–4,000 persons.)

4. The neighborhood focal point should be the elementary school centrally located on a common or green, along with other institutions that have service areas coincident with the neighborhood boundaries.

Illustration 1

The Neighborhood Unit as Seen by Clarence A. Perry

The Neighborhood Unit as Seen by Clarence A. Perry

Reproduced from New York Regional Survey, Volume 7


5. The radius of the neighborhood should be a maximum of one quarter mile, thus precluding a walk of more than that distance for any elementary school child.

Perry calculated that an area of about 160 acres would adequately house the elementary school supporting population in detached single family residences on 40 by 100 foot lots, provided a small proportion of the people lived in apartments bordering the shopping districts. Current practices of making larger individual lots, and proportionately lower population densities, have increased the "standard" neighborhood radius to one half mile.

6. Shopping districts should be sited at the edge of the neighborhood, preferably at major street intersections.

In 1924, before Perry had published his work on the neighborhood unit, Clarence Stein and Henry Wright had incorporated some of his theories into their scheme for the Sunnyside community in Queens, N.Y.3

V. Joseph Kostka4 described Perry's early work:

C. Perry, in an effort to rectify the ills of the metropolis, originated the idea of a neighborhood as a planned community, self-contained with respect to the basic needs of collective living, and large enough to maintain an elementary school. He believed and demonstrated that the school, if properly conceived, could be used to bring the people of a school district together, and to generate social consciousness. In essence, Perry and his followers endeavored to design the social neighborhood, or the community.

To contemporary planners there is nothing startling or complex about Perry's ideas. The remarkable thing about them is their continued application, with minor variations, over the years. The examples of local use of Perry's basic theory as the standard for neighborhood development are myriad, i.e., Tulsa, Okla.;5 Southfield, Mich.;6 Berkeley, Calif.;7 Wichita, Kan.8 A complete listing of cities in the United States, Canada and Europe that have embraced the neighborhood unit theory would require several pages of this report.

Illustrations 2 and 3 show contemporary adaptations of the neighborhood unit theory to new development. Illustration 4 shows elements of the theory applied to an existing gridiron development.


It seems only natural, and probably desirable, that such a widely circulated and practiced theory of land development should eventually come under rather severe criticism. The greatest clamor arose in the late 1940's when analysts of urban patterns faced a new area and began to re-examine prewar planning concepts. Perhaps the most vocal and withering criticisms came from Reginald Isaacs, then Director of Planning for Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. His articles in the Journal of Housing9 and the Journal of the American Institute of Planners10 are good examples of his position.

Illustration 2

Neighborhood Design

Reproduced from Up Ahead, A Regional Land Use Plan for Metropolitan Atlanta, courtesy of Atlanta Metropolitan Planning Commission


Isaacs rebelled at what he felt was an almost unanimous endorsement of the neighborhood unit as the panacea for all urban ills. Perry's original claim had been only that the adoption of his principles would result in "a community in which the fundamental needs of family life will be met more completely . . . than . . . by the usual residential sections in cities and villages." As Perry's theory evolved and was modified, many of its enthusiastic adherents began to ascribe rather "mystical" powers to it. These new powers largely reflected a nostalgia for rural living. The neighborhood unit often was touted as the vehicle upon which the intimate social relationships and stability lacking in chaotic city life would return. Isaacs did not mince words in his reaction to these claims.

Twenty-five years of persistent emphasis by planners and teachers have entrenched the neighborhood concept in the public mind. Only by experiencing its inadequacies through public education and participation in the planning process and by living in a planned neighborhood will there result realization of the fallacies inherent in the concept.

Generally disregarding the mass of contradictory evidence, planners have maintained that it is possible to achieve stable "neighborhoods" and, in the last 20 or more years, have planned and built what purport to be "neighborhoods." Examples of neighborhoods are few and occur only in some rural areas and suburbs, in some residual and by-passed city areas, and among some cultural groups . . . . 9

The other side of his two-pronged attack on the neighborhood was his charge that often the neighborhood concept was being used as an instrument for the segregation of racial, ethnic, religious, and economic groups. Supporting this stand, he pointed to examples of promotional material for neighborhoods, excerpts from governmental planning reports, and statements from social scientists — all advocating, or indicating the neighborhood as a tight little island devoted as strongly to keeping out "undesirable" people as to restricting through traffic.

Mr. Isaacs made a strong case, and found he was not alone in his crusade. The section of the December 1948, Journal of Housing,11 devoted to readers' comments on his views, offers stimulating ideas on the pros and cons of the neighborhood unit theory.

Architect Henry Churchill aligned himself unequivocally with Isaacs, as did others. Henry Cohen who was severely critical of Isaacs' thesis nevertheless conceded, "To minimize Mr. Isaacs contribution . . . is not justified. Mr. Isaacs has brought together an impressive array of evidence and data. Who can fail to be impressed by the misuse to which the (neighborhood) concept has been put?" He went on to say, though, "In the final analysis, however, the misuse can not be considered as inherent in the neighborhood concept as a flexible working model."

Illustration 3

Scheme for a Settlement of 5,000 People, Illustrating the Organization of Social Spaces and the Principle of Circumferential Traffic

Scheme for a Settlement of 5,000 People, Illustrating the Organization of Social Spaces and the Principle of Circumferential Traffic

Reproduced from Architectural Forum, April 1941, courtesy of Hermann Herrey and Architectural Forum


Lawrence M. Orton, former editor of the Journal of the American Institute of Planners,12 commented on the issue:

Perhaps Reginald Isaacs' critical observations on "The Neighborhood Theory" will start something. Without necessarily subscribing to his conclusions, it has seemed to this observer that city builders were establishing patterns with much more far-reaching implications than most planners were prepared to admit, even to themselves. In this connection a paragraph from the Planning Education Committee's recent report is relevant: "Within the past decade or two, a significant portion of new housing construction has been in the form of large projects in which the tenants represent a narrowly selected income group. Whether this segregation is good or bad for our society, it is evident that those who conceive and execute such projects are affecting the social organization of the community fundamentally and in ways that should not be undertaken in ignorance of the issues at stake." If the neighborhood unit concept inevitably lends itself to the building of undesirable economic and social stratification into the physical structure of our cities, it is time we recognize that fact.

From the vantage point of a decade's retrospection on this tempest, it appears that much of the opprobrium attracted by the neighborhood unit theory generated partly from a misunderstanding of some of its basic principles, partly from enthusiastic but unjustified claims made for it by some of its advocates, and partly from socially segregative policies that certain groups found easy to promulgate in a physical area designed with built-in walls. Without arguing the validity of the overall Isaacs-led critique, it is safe to say that the attack was measurably weakened by the absence of a concrete alternative proposal. Weakened as it was, it crystallized much of the formerly unvoiced questioning and became the rallying point for collective opposition by a number of planners (many of them young) against the neighborhood unit theory. Judging from the great number of existing plans still hewing closely to Perry's original concept, however, it appears that much of the momentum of the opposition movement has been exhausted.

Illustration 4

The Neighborhood Idea

The Neighborhood Idea

A sound area for living with:

1. Adequate school and parks within a half mile walk

2. Major streets around rather than through the neighborhood

3. Separate residential and non residential districts

4. Population large enough to support an elementary school. Usually 5,000 to 10,000 people

5. Some neighborhood stores and service

Reproduced from Comprehensive Planning for The Whittier Neighborhood, courtesy of Minneapolis City Planning Commission


Current Interest

Two major elements spurring the present strong interest in neighborhoods are (1) the need for development standards in urban fringe areas struggling to cope with rapid residential expansion, and (2) the requirements of the National Housing Act of 1954 for a community to become eligible for certain forms of Federal assistance in the planning and execution of urban renewal programs.

The basic problems associated with the accelerated, postwar surge of population to the nation's metropolitan areas, and the accompanying tidal waves of residential subdivisions that have blanketed the landscape are well documented elsewhere. The documentation raises issues of major urban import — open space preservation, downtown revitalization, conservation of agricultural lands, transportation dilemmas, and metropolitan government. Where this residential growth has been unplanned, we can only conjecture the ultimate damage that has been done to an orderly pattern of metropolitan growth. Where the new developments have been subject to a greater or lesser degree of planning and regulation, however, it would strengthen the cause of planning if we could point with pride to new strides in urban design, vastly more pleasant places for people to live, significant advances in terms of efficient use of the land, aesthetics, and social progress. It is sad that these benefits are conspicuous by their absence nearly as often in "planned" areas as in those that are not "planned."

With few exceptions (see ASPO Planning Advisory Service Information Report No. 135, Cluster Subdivisions, June 1960), the residential developments that have blossomed so profusely in recent years in areas where general planning or at least subdivision control enabling legislation is in effect have been shaped by strikingly similar development standards. From Atlantic to Pacific and from Canada to Mexico, the basic Perry neighborhood unit, with only minor modifications, has served as the development module. The formula is simple, and the result is tidy, perhaps too tidy. As too often happens through the use of a modular system, the end products are so standardized as to become almost undifferentiated. Thus one might feel just as at home, or just as lost, on the curvilinear streets of a "Desert Mesa" in Arizona, at the neighborhood super-shop in a "Prairie Estates" in Illinois, or in the centrally located elementary school in a "Rolling Meadows" in Pennsylvania.

While the problems of accommodating new residential developments put pressure on the planning agency from one flank, there is no commensurate relief from the equally pronounced harassment on the other side by the forces of deterioration at work on the older, built-up portions of the city. A growing local awareness of acute and grossly debilitating conditions of blight spreading in the cities and the eagerness to obtain federal money available to qualified cities to alleviate urban decay have manifested themselves in widespread analyses of existing cities. Former President Eisenhower, in transmitting to Congress his recommendations, now embodied in the Housing Act of 1954, said:

In order to clear our slums and blighted areas and to improve our communities, we must eliminate the causes of slums and blight. This is essentially a problem for our cities. However, federal assistance is justified for communities which face up to the problem of neighborhood decay and undertake long range programs directed to its prevention. The main elements of such programs should include:

First. Prevention of the spread of blight into good areas of the community through strict enforcement of housing and neighborhood standards and strict occupancy controls;

Second. Rehabilitation of salvable areas, turning them into sound, healthy neighborhoods by replanning, removing congestion, providing parks and playgrounds, reorganizing streets and traffic, and by facilitating physical rehabilitation of deteriorated structures;

Third. Clearance and redevelopment of non-salvable slums.

It is implicit in Mr. Eisenhower's remarks and in the National Housing Act that cities desiring federal aid for urban renewal will have to do some rather extensive self analysis. The pattern of analysis that has evolved among cities seeking to qualify has been one of dissection of the city into smaller parts; and subsequently holding each of these parts up for detailed examination. Upon examination some parts are scheduled for total clearance and redevelopment, others for spot clearance and general rehabilitation, and others for cleanup, facelifting and conservation.

An important phase of this municipal soul searching comes when the colored pencil is applied to the city map to delineate neighborhood units (Southfield, Michigan) or planning units (Minneapolis, Minnesota), or planning districts (Madison, Wisconsin) or neighborhoods (Wilmington, Delaware) or whatever these component parts of the city are termed. It is, after all, within these district boundaries that statistics will be gathered, citizens' committees will be formed, and the degree of renewal will be established and project areas chosen.

Delineation Criteria

It becomes apparent, based upon what has already been said, that identifying neighborhoods in postwar residential developments generally will impose no great burden on the planning agency. Exceptions to this easy demarcation may occur in some instances where multiple family development is intermingled in areas predominantly consisting of single and two-family dwellings. The problem of devising accurate, usable neighborhood boundaries becomes complex, however, in the built up city areas where land use categories are not segregated, street patterns are often laid out on a gridiron pattern, and population characteristics and building types are heterogeneous. This section of the report will be directed toward an examination of some of the methods that have been used and the rationale for their use.

Illustration 5

Photo reproduced courtesy of San Diego City Planning Department


There is a basic difference in applying "neighborhood" concepts to newly developing areas and to established sections of the city. In working with the new areas, the planner and the developer have the advantage of shaping the neighborhood to their desired end product with relatively few limitations. The function takes on the characteristics of a design problem. On the other hand, plotting a neighborhood pattern over an existing layer of established urban improvements often can take on the proportions of trying to bailout a rowboat with a sieve. Fitting even, regular boundaries to an irregular, overlapping, ill-defined grouping of elements comprising total neighborhoods becomes a frustrating task. More than a design problem, the task becomes a social problem, a political problem, and an economic problem.

Illustration 5 shows the relative ease with which a contemporary residential development can be defined as compared to a nearby, older development laid out on land of the same general topographic and areal characteristics.

Physical Boundaries

With few exceptions existence of significant physical boundaries is accepted as justification for the establishment of a neighborhood border. A variety of statements follow supporting physical features as neighborhood boundaries:

. . .the key elements in delineating neighborhoods or residential planning units are significant physical features, both natural and man-made, such as a river, extreme topography, massive or extensive nonresidential land use groups, railroads; major highways. . . . (Nashville, Tenn.)13

. . .barriers to pedestrian movement, such as rivers, mountains, and railroads, should be used as boundaries. Also major thoroughfares, carrying through traffic are utilized as boundaries. (W. Va.) 14

In order to establish and preserve its identity, the neighborhood unit must be surrounded with substantial natural or manmade barriers, such as major ravines, precipitous slopes or rivers; transportation arteries of either road or rail; or large parks or other land uses of a non-residential character, including industrial and commercial concentrations. Major street boundaries perform a double function, not only separating the unit, but also serving to direct traffic whose destination is not the neighborhood around rather than through it. (Ontario, Can.)15

Because heavily traveled arterials and expressways constitute formidable barriers to the pedestrian movement of both children and adults, they should serve as neighborhood boundaries so that within each neighborhood pedestrian movement is relatively unbroken and safe. (Tulsa, Okla.)5

Neighborhood unit boundaries . . . should be major thoroughfares or other obstacles, man made or natural. (Southfield, Mich.)6

. . .neighborhood extent is determined by such considerations as . . . topography and the existence of elements tending to create barriers. Chief among the latter are arterial streets. (Berkeley, Calif.)16

The division of Cincinnati into communities was probably less difficult than it would be in most midwestern cities because Cincinnati has many natural boundaries created by its rugged terrain. In fact, this city developed as a system of separate communities constructed on the higher ground separated by valleys and ravines from other communities, each with a separate name, character, and traditions. These were welded into one community between fifty and one-hundred years ago, but the communities are still identified by name . . . College Hill . . . Cumminsville . . . Avondale . . . Corryville . . . Price Hill . . . Hyde Park. . . . Everyone knows . . . the general location of these areas. (Cincinnati, Ohio)17

The dramatic role that topography can play in the identification of residential groupings is demonstrated in Illustration 6.

Illustration 6

Photo reproduced courtesy of San Diego City Planning Department


The reader will note the frequency with which physical features, in the context of neighborhood boundaries, are referred to as "barriers." Webster's definition of "barrier" is: 1. A fence, stockade, or other obstacle in a passage or way to stop an enemy. 2. Any obstruction; anything that hinders approach or attack; as, a mountain barrier; a barrier to social progress. 3. Hist. A tournament in which combatants fought on foot with a railing (barrier) between them.

Perhaps the use of the word "barrier" is an unfortunate choice. In each of the above definitions "barrier" is posed as the device separating two opposing or antagonistic elements. Such definition tends to support Isaacs' argument that the neighborhood unit too often is used as an instrument of segregation. This report makes no argument with the use of physical features as one criterion of neighborhood delineation. It would, however, be more palatable to many persons concerned with the social implications of urban design, if the rationale for using these physical features was as a cohesive agent encouraging internal social interaction, rather than as a stockade to restrict the entrance of "undesirables."

Major Streets

A street may function in either of two basic ways; it may be designed to provide a route for through traffic, or it may be designed to provide access to abutting property. The plight of a major city street trying to carry out the dual task of moving major volumes of traffic and, at the same time, providing access to strip business establishments, is all too familiar.

The widely accepted practice of using major streets as neighborhood boundaries is basically sound. An atmosphere of quiet and cohesiveness in the neighborhood will not be encouraged by the introduction of high volume, high speed traffic into the area. On the other hand, there will be times when both sides of a street are devoted to commercial uses that serve as a neighborhood shopping center for residential areas extending back from both sides. In these cases, it becomes unrealistic to draw a boundary line down the center of the street.

The importance of major streets as neighborhood boundaries as viewed by individual neighborhood residents is pointed up in a Michigan State University study on spatial locations in the city.18 In answer to a question as to how far the neighborhood extended, 79 per cent of the study's 574 respondents mentioned a major street as at least one of the boundaries. Railroads, the second most frequently mentioned boundary, was given as a reply by only 18 per cent of the respondents.

Statistical Areas

Some agencies (i.e., Oakland, Calif.)19 have found it advantageous to use existing lines, established for delineation of statistical measurement purposes, as neighborhood or planning unit boundaries.

The most familiar of these are census tract boundaries. Their advantages are:

1. Comparability of housing, demographic, and socio-economic data for the same relatively small area over a considerably long period of time.

2. Most census tracts are of approximately the same population size.

3. Census tract boundaries follow political boundaries and often follow major streets and other lines that may be coterminous with other lines suitable as neighborhood boundaries.

Their disadvantages are:

1. Although census tracts usually are comparable in population size, they often vary widely in physical area.

2. Some areas have not been retracted for many years; although this permits development of a trend line for the area, it sometimes disregards significant internal changes that otherwise would demand the recognition of more than one neighborhood.

3. Since census tract lines are drawn primarily for statistical relevance, they sometimes disregard topography and other physical features that are of major importance in urban design.

The decision to use census tracts as planning units will depend largely on the nature of the local area's agency and its purpose in dividing the city into units. If the units are being carved out as design elements there is less argument in favor of the census tracts than if they are to be used for statistical analysis.

The agency that sticks too closely to either of these criteria of delineation — pure design or statistical sub-grouping — is likely to face a dilemma. One city based its entire scheme of planning areas upon physical characteristics and went to great expense to map, print, and code a land use survey according to the scheme, only to discover that an analysis of any depth was next to impossible. By the same token, community design based only upon census tract lines would be less than ideal.

A wise alternative in neighborhood delineation is to use census tract lines to supplement neighborhood boundaries arrived at by other criteria. This can be done by:

1. Following the census tract lines wherever they are not in direct conflict with other major considerations.

2. Grouping two or more tracts where other considerations permit.

3. Following enumeration district lines when following the tract line is obviously inconsistent with neighborhood composition. This will make additional work in statistical analysis (and enumeration district lines may not be as constant as tract lines), but, nevertheless, the capacity for statistical analysis will not be lost.

R. L. Rathfon, Planning Director, Sacramento, California, wrote ASPO Planning Advisory Service regarding census tracts and their relation to neighborhood boundaries:

. . .we finally came to the conclusion that unless a census tract boundary violates a great number of other facilities, we preferred to weight the census tract line to the dominant, because we found that statistically adhering to the census tract line would serve "planning," not only in this office, but to other organizations dealing with neighborhood problems, to the best advantage.

Focal Points

Often parts of the city are associated with their proximity to some physical element that is uniquely theirs. This element takes on the characteristics of a centrally located magnet that exerts its influence radially.

In areas of strong concentrations of minority groups, institutions catering to or closely associated with the particular needs of the group will become neighborhood focal points. Some examples might include a Buddhist Church in an oriental neighborhood, a bocce ball court in an Italian area, or a settlement house. Religious institutions, Catholic churches in particular, often are the point around which neighborhood life revolves in some localities.

Many attempts have been made to design this element into new residential neighborhoods, usually in the form of an elementary school-common green-community center complex. The degree of success of this conscious effort varies.

In older parts of the city the neighborhood focal point may take on a number of forms. In some cases it may be a school or a park as in the newer areas. Often it will be a shopping area. Frederick Gibberd in Town Design20 makes some relevant observations on this matter.

The undisputed reason for making schools for young children an integral part of the neighborhood is that education is based on both family and school life. With the school building within easy reach of the home there is every chance for contact between the parent and the teacher; and of the school being accepted by children as a natural part of their existence — the same children playing together out of school hours, and the buildings not being in a foreign place to be visited for certain set hours, only during the week. There is, too, the physical, as distinct from social reason, that the child can, when the school is within the neighborhood boundaries, walk to it with ease and safety.

These considerations are not so important with the older children, who generally strive, and are better for, a measure of independence from home ties, and who are old enough to cross main roads or go to school on bicycles. Since in England and Wales the children above twelve years of age are sent, according to their natural bent, to one of three types of school . . . , and since all three types cannot be provided in every neighborhood, children will have to travel about the town, and so there seems little point in trying to make the schools a part of the neighborhood plan.

Probably the most effective method of generating community life is to use the shops as the basis, and place with them those buildings which serve the community needs, such as the hall, pub, library and health centre.

To illustrate this point, Mr. Gibberd quoted Judith Ledeboer:

"The shops and the shopping centre provide the most important elements in the design of the neighborhood. It is there that your communal relations really start. The school basis for the theory of the neighborhood unit has been built up round a children's community, and it affords an inadequate conception of a neighborhood unit in which adults are going to live."

A good shopping centre combined with other community buildings will, like the medieval market place, bring the inhabitants into social intercourse far more effectively than any number of community centres, however large and however well organized. People meet over the shopping basket in the local cafe, milk bar, pub or library. If all these activities can be concentrated at one point then there will be the greatest possible chance that different social groups, with different interests, will be brought into contact with each other, and the least possible chance of individuals becoming isolated and lonely.

Measurement of the attraction power of these focal points is not easy. Furthermore, as population makeup changes, so will the effect of these neighborhood "magnets." Nevertheless, their influence should not be ignored in the formulation of neighborhood boundaries. Careful consideration of them in neighborhood planning can be the ingredient that will hold an area together and give it the individuality necessary to avoid the flat conformity and anonymity so often associated with American cities.

Land Use

Major changes in land use patterns generally will dictate demarcation of planning unit boundaries. There is little question that an abrupt shift from residential to commercial or industrial areas will make for significant differences in design, statistical and social considerations of the neighborhood.

Residential Building Type

The different characteristics of residential structures are often sufficient to separate neighborhoods. A problem of oversegregation can arise, however, if neighborhood boundaries are drawn arbitrarily at every break in a uniform area.

Residential buildings may be classified into four general categories for purposes of neighborhood groupings: single family structures, two to four family structures, apartment houses, and rooming houses. This simple breakdown does not include the myriad other housing types, i.e., row houses, fraternity houses, semidetached flats, each of which may be an important segment of the housing stock in particular localities and may require special treatment.

Closely connected to the type of housing is the matter of owner or renter occupancy. There is no suggestion in this report that either residential building types or areas of renter and owner occupancy should be universally segregated. On the contrary, to encourage variety and interest in the living environment, attempts should be made to introduce into the neighborhood assorted building types along with their cross section of social, vocational, income, family size and cultural occupancy characteristics. At the same time, it must be recognized that large portions of our existing city development have been built under rigid zoning and building regulations that too often have encouraged a deadening conformity by their inflexibility. Certain traditions, social groupings, and associations among the residents have developed in this milieu. It is not uncommon to find these social patterns closely following the physical patterns of residential building types.

Whether or not the planner is bound to socially plan the city as he physically plans it is the ingredient of another and more extensive discussion. Failure to accommodate established social patterns into the planning or replanning of existing neighborhoods, though, is a failure to make use of all the resources at hand for creation and maintenance of an improved environment.

Ethnic Groups

An official policy of identification of neighborhoods based upon the racial, religious, or national origin characteristics of its occupants would, in most parts of the country, place the planning agency in a position open to considerable criticism and would be difficult to support. The important social implications of neighborhood delineation in terms of the physical changes that may result from it, and the delineation techniques as a reflection of implied local government policy, cannot be avoided.

The problem of how to weigh ethnic enclaves in formulating neighborhood boundaries has no simple solution. On one hand is the great body of evidence pointing to the tremendous human and economic waste of the ghetto,2l and the substantial amount of correlative data supporting the desirability of ethnic integration in housing.22, 23

At the same time a cry is voiced against the sterility, conformity, and monotony of American cities.24 American culture has been stereotyped as evolving in the direction of a standardized, unvaried entity, from Maine to California, under the pressures of the mass communication media, public school education and Madison Avenue pitchmen.25

Serious concern with segregation in housing and "look alike" cities does not present irreconcilable points of view, even though, at first examination, it may appear to do just this. Few will deny the physical and social unwhole­someness associated with nearly all areas of segregated, minority group housing. Nor will there be a large group that will fail to concede the desirability of the existence in the city of occasional small, ethnically identifiable islands — Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Tokyo, German, Polish, Latin American and Jewish districts. The shops and restaurants of these areas, specializing in products and foods unique to the cultural backgrounds of the residents, are an asset to the entire city, as are the areas' social and religious institutions.

It should be interjected here that several national and international developments, most notably the passage of the McCarran-Walter Act, have altered greatly the pattern of foreign immigration to the United States. The controversial McCarran-Walter Act, adopted by Congress in 1924 and reaffirmed in 1952, established a national origins quota system. It effectively limited immigration to persons from northern and western European countries (who now care little about moving to this country); a very small part of the remaining quota was available to the rest of the countries of the world. Asian immigration was all but halted completely.

The result of this sudden decline in immigrants has been a gradual dilution of many of the ethnic neighborhoods, as older immigrants die and their American born offspring are assimilated and leave the ghettos. Herbert Stevens, Planning Director, Cincinnati, discussed this trend in his city in a letter to ASPO Planning Advisory Service:17

As we have continued with our urban renewal projects, our expressways, and other parts of our planning program, we have at times reexamined the specific community or groups of neighborhoods in which we are working. We have often found that the ethnic groups which originally gave a neighborhood its cultural homogeneity are no longer there. Often enough, fragments of the original German population remain in a traditionally German neighborhood, but those of German extraction are gradually being replaced by some subsequent group so that we find it difficult to use social criteria in determining the validity of neighborhood unit boundaries. We have an area called Little Italy in which one would have difficulty in finding an Italian, although the area is easy to define. This is not always true, of course, and some neighborhoods here are strongly German, or strongly Jewish, and the cultural homogeneity is evident within fairly satisfactory neighborhood boundaries.

It seems that a major element in differentiating between the undesirability of the ghetto and the desirability of the retained cultural or ethnic grouping is the motivation for their existence. The ghetto, usually marked by blight and overcrowded conditions, is the result of imposed constraints on a minority segment of the population. In this situation the minority group member may live only in specified areas of the city. He has no voice in the formulation of the policy of segregation, but sometimes is able to extend the ghetto boundaries through sheer force of numbers.

Natural cultural and ethnic groupings, on the other hand, may occur in unsegregated areas as a reflection of the individual's desire to be near others of similar language, religion, or general cultural background. Such groupings, if unrestricted by arbitrary barriers, need not be overcrowded or blighted. In addition, those persons living there can know that their place of residence is a matter of personal choice, and should they care to move elsewhere, their movements will not be restricted by considerations of race, religion, or national origin.

Charles Abrams puts this premise a bit more emphatically:

A voluntary ghetto has certain virtues, not the least of which is that a given minority may feel more comfortable living with people of its own kind, race or tongue. It is as pre­emptory to forbid it as to compel it, and as absurd to insist upon compulsory assimilation as to insist upon compulsory segregation. In both instances a person is told where he must live. What we should insure is that ethnic composition is the product of voluntary action, that the opportunity for a free exodus as well as free entry exists, and that the process of social fluidity functions as well as it can be made to function.21

A rule of thumb that might be followed in cases of ethnic groupings as neighborhood considerations might be to ignore them when they are imposed as a discriminatory practice, but to accommodate them within neighborhood boundaries when they are an expression of their occupants' free choice of housing.

Neighborhood Associations

In situations where other delineation criteria are absent, or overlap to such an extent that there is still question as to where a neighborhood line should be drawn, the boundaries of operation of established local organizations can aid in solving the problem. Capitalizing on the existence of these groups has the added advantage of providing the planning unit with a ready made organization for citizen participation in the planning process.

The following Planning Directors, in reply to ASPO Planning Advisory Service inquiries, stated:

Kenneth K. Clark, Madison, Wisconsin:

We had a very difficult time in establishing neighborhood boundaries in instances of gerrymander school district lines, converging major thoroughfares and mixed land uses occurring principally in the isthmus and older portions of Madison. In these instances we gave weight to the social aspects of neighborhood delineation based on the influence sphere of neighborhood associations, Parent Teacher Associations, commercial interest groups, etc.

Lawrence Irvin, Minneapolis, Minnesota:

The limits of many organized home owner associations (and) businessmen's clubs often provide a good clue to the neighborhood definition. We found, in fact, if we want active and effective citizen participation, we must define our neighborhoods as they see them and name these neighborhoods as they identify them.

Community Facility Service Areas

Probably the most common means of delimiting neighborhoods, as discussed earlier in this report, is to draw the boundary lines approximately coincident with the service area of a centrally located elementary school. This package formula suggests that shopping areas should be placed at the edge of the neighborhood at two intersecting major streets that serve as common boundaries for two or more neighborhoods. Thus the service area of the retail complex also affects the dimensions of the neighborhood.

Other institutions, such as churches and branch libraries, also may control neighborhood boundaries through their spheres of influence. A good discussion of the complex and sometimes ticklish problems of relating churches to neighborhoods appears in Church and City Planning.26

The main criticism of this method of neighborhood delineation is that too often it is utilized to the exclusion of other valid criteria of definition. Neighborhoods based solely on community facility service areas tend to be stereotyped and artificial.

A further limitation of this technique is its frequent inapplicability in older portions of the city, where existing patterns of land use are such that they often cannot be shaped to the neat specifications of the "model" neighborhood. Mr. Irvin's comments again are relevant:

In the newer sections of our city it was fortunate that in many cases we were able to coordinate school and park planning. Thus their service areas are comparable, (and) the definition of the neighborhood is closer to the ideal concept. In the older sections, this is not so. The neighborhood boundaries follow the park and playground service area limits if the schools are old and likely to be relocated. In some cases the school service boundaries should be followed if the schools are new and centrally located.

Applying the Criteria

The preceding discussion of delineation techniques covers the major methods available for defining the neighborhood, but it is by no means exhaustive. Local areas will find (or should find) special characteristics that bear consideration. Failure to take these specialized local elements into account may superficially make the job of platting neighborhoods a little easier, but it perpetuates patterns of monotony and does not capitalize on the total resources of the area.

A major problem in neighborhood definition lies in the purpose for which it is being defined. Consider the variety of subareas of a city that are in common usage: a police precinct, a school or pupil assignment district, a Catholic parish, a census tract, a postal zone, an assessment district, a voting precinct. Each of these subareas is defined for a relatively narrow purpose. The neighborhood or planning unit, on the other hand, is generally an attempt to group the total components — social, physical, economic, visual — which overlay an area into a single, identifiable unit. Whatever the theoretical desirability of this kind of grouping, it must be recognized that it is impossible to put it into practice so that each element fits precisely.

The chances of approaching more closely the presently accepted model neighborhood are best when designing new developments. Certainly major parts of planning agency efforts are directed toward the large, already developed sections of cities. Parts will be left over and gaps will occur in these areas of heterogenous land use, building type and age, structural condition and occupancy.

Appendix A is an excerpt from a Minneapolis study that discusses planning treatment for residual residential areas, so small and so isolated that they do not qualify as neighborhoods. This marks one attempt to handle the less than neat existing patterns of development.

Nonresidential Districts

In commercial, industrial, or other nonresidential districts, it becomes obvious that different kinds of criteria will guide the drawing of planning unit boundaries. As in residential areas, however, definition of these commercial and industrial units is easier in new developments — shopping centers, industrial parks — than in older groupings that are less homogenous and well-defined. Another problem is where to place convenience shopping areas, particularly strip commercial developments, that serve more than one residential neighborhood. It makes little sense to draw arbitrarily the neighborhood boundary line down the center of the street bisecting an otherwise integrated shopping district.

Appendix B, an excerpt from a Nashville neighborhood report, illustrates a technique which that city used to deal with the problem of nonresidential planning units. The method of defining several different types of planning units bears close examination. Using the Nashville method, neighborhood shopping areas may be excluded from the boundaries of the residential neighborhoods and may be treated as special small planning units.

Neighborhood Subdistricts

So long as the main trend in neighborhood thinking continues to follow pretty closely the concepts laid down by Perry, we can expect neighborhoods to consist of 3,000–5,000 people and, in single family areas, to be about a mile in diameter. For purposes of supplying a supporting school population and creating an island bounded by major traffic arteries, this size probably is satisfactory. Regarding this arrangement, Hans Blumenfeld noted:

That is all to the good and an aspect worth considering in designing a system of major traffic arteries — but it is hardly an adequate means to save the city, the nation, and the world from impending disaster, as the prophets of the "neighborhood concept" would like to make us believe.11

If we think of the neighborhood as a place of "neighborliness," it is pretty obvious that a close relationship will not develop between 5,000 persons or across a one mile area. In a farm village of 50–100 families a close relationship develops, and every member of the group knows every other member by name, face, and often by voice and habit. Henry Churchill once said:

. . .A community is not just an aggregation of dwellings plus a few stores, nor is a neighborhood established by physical boundaries. A neighborhood is an area within which a spirit of neighborliness exists, and in which people do not feel strange. These feelings can be fostered by physical planning, but it alone cannot create them. If we are really going to rehabilitate our cities we must go deeper than planning for safe side streets and protective green-belts. . . 27

To foster community interaction the planning agency may identify subareas or housing groups within the neighborhood. These may consist of a block, or both sides of a street, or even a group of several multi-family buildings. This technique may be most useful where there are clusters of varied types of housing.

Illustration 8, a section of Chicago's Southside, shows a clearly definable neighborhood subdistrict. This particular area is shown, because its boundaries are established by so many of the criteria discussed in this report.

A. Physical feature — the large open park to the north.

B. Major street — Stony Island Avenue, with its heavy traffic and major bus route, to the west.

C. Ethnic grouping — an almost 100 per cent Negro population and an almost 100 per cent white population are separated, at least temporarily, by Stony Island Avenue.

D. Focal points — the retail shopping area along both sides of Stony Island Avenue is a local center of pedestrian attraction.

E. Residential building type — the six residential blocks in the subdistrict are comprised exclusively of three story apartment houses. There is an abrupt shift to prestige type single family residences to the east and to a mixture of one and two family dwellings to the south. In the outlined subgroup, owner occupancy is extremely low, while to the east it is almost 100 per cent and to the south it is about 60 per cent.

F. Neighborhood associations — attempts are underway to organize a local citizens group to improve the area within the neighborhood subgroup boundaries.

G. Community facility service areas — all public school elementary pupils in the subdistrict attend the Parkside Elementary School.

Illustration 8

Base map reproduced courtesy of Chicago City Planning Department


In neighborhoods where conservation and rehabilitation programs are being undertaken, formulation of block club groups for neighborhood improvement projects has been successful. Properly organized subneighborhood projects can achieve actual environmental improvements, as well as create a sense of social cohesiveness. In her book, A Neighborhood Finds Itself,28 Julia Abrahamson discusses the effectiveness of such groupings in the Hyde Park-Kenwood Area in Chicago:

. . .Block groups had been organizing in different parts of the community. Encouraged by conference leaders, neighbors had begun to get together to work on the problems of their blocks.

The people in one block, concerned over both the appearance of a debris-littered lot and the need of their children for a place to play, disposed of the two problems by cleaning the lot and converting it into a playground.

In another block people were afraid to go out at night because of the dimness of the street lights and the frequent failure of power which plunged their street into total darkness. A new street-lighting system by the city was indicated, but this seemed unlikely in the near future. Keeping porch lights on after dark and putting fluorescent lamps in front of window shades provided a temporary solution at a cost of two cents per night. Alley lights were purchased and installed through an agreement between building owners and tenants to share the cost of equipment and electricity.

Miss Abrahamson's list of effectuated projects is long. The point here is that while each individual project might not represent a major advancement, the collection of these projects can make a significant change in a neighborhood. It is not overly optimistic to include as a part of this change the difficult-to-measure increase in neighborhood pride and identity on the part of the participating residents. Recognition of neighborhood subelements is an important step toward involving the individual in local improvement action and the planning process.


The concept of the neighborhood is well established as a basic unit for planning our cities. Further, it is a popular and accepted (though often vague) element of social and physical organization in the minds of most Americans. The neighborhood has become the symbol, through conscious design or nostalgic wishful thinking, of a means to preserve the real or imagined values of an earlier, semi-rural, less harried way of life in our increasingly complex and fast moving urban centers. Unqualified criticism of it would be unfair and unwarranted; it also would be unwise, and in some ways like criticizing baseball or the "Fourth of July."

Unqualified endorsement of neighborhood planning as it has been practiced would be equally unjustified. Such endorsement could be accounted for only by incomplete knowledge of the problems of neighborhoods, or by unwillingness to let the facts upset an otherwise tidy formula.

The nineteenth century conception of neighborhood and, for that matter, many of the more recent versions of the "neighborhood unit" or "cell" derive from the notion that neighborhoods will be composed of aggregations of "average" families — husband, wife, about 1.5 children, and maybe a miscellaneous relative or two — all of them desiring the kind of neighborliness, stability, and respectability associated with grandma's time. Actually, families of this sort comprise less than half of the families occupying dwelling units in our cities.

For many of the "non-average" families — childless couples, retired persons, single individuals, lodgers, migratory workers, and others — where the social habits and activities are other than usual, the traditional neighborhood may have little appeal. For some families and individuals, the privacy, anonymity, and closeness to centers of entertainment, work, or transportation that are offered by many urban areas with little unity between neighbors, may be quite desirable.

Even for those families that conform to the "average," the planned neighborhood does not necessarily provide the ideal living environment. This is not to say that many of the elements that are being incorporated into contemporary neighborhoods are not sound, i.e., who can argue against the advisability of diverting high speed and high volume traffic away from living areas, especially where children may be playing or walking to school. Yet there is a depressing sameness about a great many of our newer developments, a sameness that begins with individual structures and extends through the entire layout of the neighborhood and the composition of its population, leaving the impression that perhaps the greatest virtue of these places is their newness.

While this report has been devoted primarily to a discussion of techniques for delimiting neighborhoods, it unavoidably has dealt with certain subjective evaluations of the neighborhood theory. Drawing the boundaries of a neighborhood, if these boundaries are to serve as a frame of reference for actual physical change, will affect significantly the kind of neighborhoods that result.

There seems to be a great need for integration in neighborhoods — integration of different kinds of people, different kinds of dwellings, and different kinds of ideas. Utilization of as many criteria of neighborhood identification as are available may provide the tools to build better, new neighborhoods and to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of existing ones. A willingness to go further than adopting a neat set of standards based upon a thirty-five year old concept as the guide for all residential development in the city is necessary, if we are to provide the variety of living areas suited to the variety of people who live in the city.


Planning Advisory Service extends sincere thanks to the following persons who took time from their own busy schedules to supply us with published material and personal observations relative to neighborhoods and their delineation. Some of the material and comments have been reprinted in this report.

Kenneth K. Clark, Planning Director, Plan Commission, Madison, Wis.

Irving Hand, Director, Planning Services Division, City Planning Commission, Nashville, Tenn.

Lawrence M. Irvin, Planning Director, Planning Commission, Minneapolis, Minn.

L.L. Little, Director of Planning, Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, Wichita, Kansas.

R.L. Rathfon, Planning Director, City Planning Commission, Sacramento, Calif.

Herbert W. Stevens, Director of City Planning, City Planning Commission, Cincinnati, Ohio.

C. Ronal Woods, Planning Director, Department of City Planning, Pittsburgh, Pa.


1. Henry Wright, Discussion of Neighborhood Planning. Speech before meeting of the American City Planning Institute, (1931).

2. Clarence A. Perry, "The Neighborhood Unit," Neighborhood and Community Planning, (VII), (New York: Committee for the Regional Survey of New York and its Environs, 1929).

3. Clarence S. Stein, Toward New Towns for America, (Liverpool, England: Reinhold, 1951).

4. V. Joseph Kostka, Neighborhood Planning, (Winnipeg, Man.: Kostka, 1957).

5. Comprehensive Plan, Tulsa Metropolitan Area, Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, (Tulsa, 1960).

6. Population and the Neighborhood Units: A Master Plan Study. Planning Commission of the City of Southfield, Michigan, (1959).

7. Berkeley Master Plan — 1955. Berkeley, California Planning Commission, (Berkeley, 1955).

8. Neighborhoods. Report #58-1. Wichita-Sedgwick Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, (Wichita, 1958).

9. Reginald Isaacs, "Are Urban Neighborhoods Possible?" Journal of Housing, July, 1948, 177; and "The 'Neighborhood Unit' is an Instrument for Segregation," Journal of Housing, August, 1948, 215.

10. Reginald Isaacs, "The Neighborhood Theory — An Analysis of Its Adequacy," Journal of the American Institute of Planners, Spring, 1948, 15.

11. "'Neighborhood' Concept is Submitted to Questioning," Journal of Housing, December, 1948, 299.

12. Lawrence M. Orton, "On Retiring as Editor," Journal of the American Institute of Planners, Spring, 1948, 2.

13. Irving Hand, Director of Plans and Research, Nashville City Planning Commission. Letter to ASPO Planning Advisory Service.

14. West Virginia Planning Manual, City-County Economic Development Agency, (Charleston, West Virginia, 1960).

15. "The Neighborhood Unit," Ontario Planning (supplement), (June–July, 1955).

16. Preliminary Master Plan for Berkeley. City Planning Commission, (Berkeley, California, 1953).

17. Herbert W. Stevens, Director of City Planning, City Planning Commission, Cincinnati, Ohio. Letter to ASPO Planning Advisory Service.

18. J. Smith and G. L. Maddox, "The Spatial Location and Use of Selected Facilities in a Middle-Sized City," Social Forces, (December, 1959), 119.

19. Data Handbook for the Preliminary General Plan. City Planning Commission, Oakland, California, (August, 1959).

20. Frederick Gibberd, Town Design (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1959).

21. Charles Abrams. Forbidden Neighbors, (New York: Harper and Bros., 1955).

22. E. and G. Grier, Privately Developed Interracial Housing (Berkeley: University of California Press, Commission on Race and Housing, 1960).

23. Luigi Laurenti, Property Values and Race (Berkeley: University of California Press, Commission on Race and Housing, 1960).

24. William S. Bonner, "The Planning of Neighborhoods," Journal of the American Institute of Architects, (March, 1959), 62.

25. John Keats. The Crack in the Picture Window. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1957).

26. R. C. Hoover and P. L. Everett. Church and City Planning. Survey Guide 2, Bureau of Research and Survey, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U. S .A., (New York, 1955).

27. Henry S. Churchill, "Housing and Community Planning," Seminar Address to Planning and Housing Division, School of Architecture, Columbia University: Pencil Points, May, 1943, 87.

28. Julia Abrahamson, A Neighborhood Finds Itself, (New York: Harper and Bros., 1959).

Appendix A

The Residential Pocket

While it is a goal that all housing areas should be incorporated into neighborhoods which approach the ideal in form, size and design, the course of past development makes it inevitable that there will be some isolated "pocket" areas which are so small that they cannot qualify as neighborhoods in themselves and which are so sharply separated from other areas that they cannot be reasonably considered a part of any nearby neighborhood. For the most part, these areas cannot be ignored; they must be protected and given public facilities and services to the extent feasible.

The following goals are set forth as guides for the planning of such areas:

1. Where it is clear that a residential pocket can have lasting value, every effort should be made to make it a part of an adjoining area by removal of the traffic route, rail line or other barrier or by the creation of ties or bridging which make effective, safe communication between the pocket and a neighborhood possible.

2. Where it is impossible to provide for effective, safe ties between the pocket and a neighborhood, the following objectives should be sought:

  1. Where conditions in a pocket will call for its eventual clearance, where the market is suitable and where a new non-residential use would not be detrimental, it should be redeveloped for that non-residential use.
  2. If it must continue in residential use and is susceptible to the change, it should be used primarily for the housing of adult families, as compared to those with children.
  3. If it must continue to house families with children, special facilities (such as buses) should be provided to give children safe and reasonable passage to school, or branch facilities (such as primary classrooms) should be provided to accommodate the youngest children. In such situations it will probably also be necessary to provide some recreation facility within the pocket area.
  4. To reduce detrimental effects upon it, any residential pocket which must remain should be kept as large and compact as is compatible with other goals, by avoiding unnecessary divisions by non-residential land uses, major traffic streets, etc.

Principles for Planning Isolated Residential Pockets

Principles for Planning Isolated Residential Pockets

1. If Possible, tie pocket areas to sound neighborhoods by eliminating barriers between them by bridging or other devices.

2. Examine possibilities of converting pocket areas to appropriate non-residential uses.

3. Provide housing in pocket areas primarily for adult population.

4. Keep pocket areas large enough so that they do not become islands but can, instead, form their "own environments".

5. If necessary, provide special facilities for children in pocket areas — such as school busses, play-lots or primary classrooms.

Reproduced from Neighborhood and Community Goals for Minneapolis Living Areas, courtesy of Minneapolis City Planning Commission


Appendix B

Planning Units in the Nashville Metropolitan Area Davidson County, Tennessee 1959

I. Division of the Nashville Metropolitan Area

The urban and urbanizing (growth) area of the Nashville Metropolitan Area has been divided into geographical segments called Planning Units. Each of the eighty-one planning units have been given place names. In most cases these identifications are those customarily used by local residents. Some names have been selected that may not be familiar. This occurs in areas that have never been generally identified by a neighborhood or community name.

II. Definition of the "Urban and Urbanizing Area"

The urban and urbanizing area, referred to above, is not limited to the area delineated in the 1950 U. S. Census of Population as "urban." Rather, the following factors have been considered in determining the existing "urban and urbanizing area" of the Nashville Metropolitan Area:

  1. A well defined street pattern.
  2. Land in subdivision, i.e., divided into building sites shown on recorded plats.
  3. A density of population, for the most part, of at least one family (3.5 persons) per acre.
  4. Unsubdivided, undeveloped acreage adjoining developed areas where activity for further development is evident. Preliminary plans for platting have been the principal evidence used to indicate such activity. Other considerations were the location of the proposed interstate highway system; the suitability of the soil, generally, for subsoil sewage disposal systems; and recent directional trends in the geographical growth pattern of the metropolitan area.

III. Definition of Planning Units

Planning units as delineated are of five general types:

  1. residential.
  2. general commercial and/or industrial.
  3. transitional.
  4. growth (usually with residential potential).
  5. special.

They are defined collectively as being areas, convenient for study purposes and for the collection of statistical data, for various types of planning projects.

IV. Residential Planning Units

Residential planning units have one or more of the following economic, social, ethnic, geographic or topographic features:

  1. Population with similar income range.
  2. Housing having similar values and/or state of repair.
  3. Similar ethnic groups.
  4. Natural physical features limiting communication.
  5. Man-made physical features limiting communications.
  6. Location of primary schools.
  7. Location of daily-needs household shopping facilities, e.g., local grocery, druggist.
  8. Subjective local concepts used by people to identify themselves with an area known by a traditional name. (Such concepts frequently have geographic boundaries that are vague.)
  9. Areas of similar density of population.
  10. Areas containing approximately the same number of people.
  11. Areas in which the residential population is orientated toward institutions.
  12. An area occupied predominately by residential structures.

In delineating a residential planning unit, consideration was given to as many of these twelve factors as could be applied. The importance of one factor over another depended upon the situation as it appeared in the area being studied. Usually, some one factor initially pointed to an area as a possible planning unit and subsequently other factors modified or solidified the boundary location. Factor twelve was, of course, a prerequisite for delineation. Furthermore, either a natural or a man-made physical feature(s), or both was a prime consideration.

In a number of cases, a boundary was adjusted to physical features most nearly approximating the route of the proposed interstate controlled access highway system. It is anticipated that these boundaries will be moved to the right-of-way line at such time as the highway is constructed.

Local shopping and "strip" business areas were included within residential planning units. However, larger areas of commercial activity were delineated separately as units.

V. Commercial and Industrial Planning Units

Areas where the predominate land use is of a commercial and/or industrial nature also have been delineated as planning units. Unlike residential planning units, where the land use is generally uniform, commercial and industrial units may contain mixtures of uses. However, such areas have reached a stage of development and are located in relation to modes of transportation in such a way that the non-commercial and non-industrial uses are of little consequence in providing a distinctive characteristic.

VI. Transitional Planning Units

In some sections of the metropolitan area, development is going on that is changing the use characteristics of the land. In these sections the trend usually is from a residential characteristic to either industrial, general commercial or institutional characteristics. These areas differ from "growth planning units" in that the land is presently built-up, with the changing use pattern coming about by demolition of existing structures and replacement by new buildings or the conversion of structures from one use type to entirely new use types.

VII. Growth Planning Units

Lines have been drawn delineating some areas now primarily rural or semi-rural in character as planning units. Within these areas there are factors working that indicate urban development will occur more rapidly than in other rural areas of the county. Such indicators include:

  1. Existing subdivision development on a relatively small part of the total planning unit area.
  2. Preliminary subdivision plats pointing to early development of an urban pattern.
  3. Location of interchanges on the interstate highway system.
  4. Suitability of the soil for sanitary subsoil sewage disposal systems.
  5. Location of proposed major industrial plants that would attract residential development.
  6. Availability and suitability of land for industrial development.
  7. Lands lying in the line of geographical growth trends.

Some adjustment in the boundary lines of these units may be necessary as the urban pattern develops. However, the lines that have been selected follow natural or man-made features that indicate their suitability as boundaries at a full urban growth stage.

VIII. Special Planning Unit

The planning unit containing Berry Field and Central State Hospital is designated as a special planning unit as its use characteristics are unlike either of the four other types.

IX. Comprehensive Concept

Planning unit boundaries, as these have been delineated, could be modified for particular planning study purposes. For example, in a recreation study the greatest weight (and possibly the controlling factor) in determining a "recreation study planning unit" would be given to the location of schools and parks. Units with these bases might well serve the particular purposes involved, but facilities to serve a population, of course, involve things other than recreational areas. It has been therefore, the purpose of this approach to delineate planning units so that they could have almost universal application in any study of physical facilities requiring area determinations. In other words, the boundaries may be considered "comprehensive" rather than "special purpose" limits.

Reproduced from Street Coding Guide for Planning Units, courtesy of Nashville City and Davidson County Planning Commissions.

Copyright, American Society of Planning Officials, 1960.