Blueprint for a Blissful Neighborhood

How New Urbanist design facilitates everyday social interaction

By PT Staff, published on September 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

For most of us, home is more than a home. It's a place where we seek to meet many of our emotional needs. Increasingly, we want our homes and neighborhoods to provide us with personal identity and a connection to others.

The New Urbanism seeks to capitalize on this urge by facilitating everyday social interaction through the strategic design of public and private spaces. This urban planning movement is built on the belief that physical environments really matter and shape our lives in ways we might not recognize. Neighborhoods that reflect New Urbanist tenets make use of some or all of the following design elements:

  • Small private lots create a reasonable density of single family homes. A house placed close to the front of a lot, rather than behind a vast lawn, can play a big role in increasing the safety of the neighborhood and encouraging the return of street life -- kids playing, adults gathering. It maximizes "eyes on the street."
  • Garages at the rear of homes free the front of the property for human interaction and decrease dependence on the automobile. They lend a small-town feel to a neighborhood.
  • Front porches encourage streetside friendliness and promote feelings of safety that underlie the return of human activity to the street.
  • Pocket parks and playgrounds give adults and children communal green space along with reasons to walk and gather outdoors.
  • Interconnected streets and broad sidewalks rather than cul-de-sacs facilitate human movement through a neighborhood.
  • Small stores grouped together, like wine shops and ice cream parlors within walking distance of single-family homes, make for a mixed-use neighborhood of residential and commercial spaces. This creates the feel of a village. It encourages pedestrian traffic and makes encountering others in a natural, purposeful setting more likely.
  • Clustering mailboxes similarly brings neighbors together and facilitates social interaction as part of the daily rhythm of life.