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Don't Know Your Neighbors? Blame an Urban Planner Don't Know Your Neighbors? Blame an Urban Planner

Don't Know Your Neighbors? Blame an Urban Planner

by Adele Peters

April 27, 2013


How much traffic is on your block? The more people whizz by in cars, the fewer neighbors you're likely to know. In a classic study written up in his 1981 book Liveable Streets, Donald Appleyard explained how much a simple thing like traffic changes communities.

Appleyard looked at three streets in San Francisco that were nearly identical except for traffic. The people on the quietest street knew the most neighbors—on average, they claimed three friends, and 6.3 acquaintances, on the block. The researcher described the close community: people sat and chatted on front steps, kids played on the sidewalk and in the street. 

Things were different on the other two streets; on the block with medium levels of traffic, residents had 1.3 friends, and on the street with heavy traffic, the number of friends dwindled to 0.9. The street "was used solely as a corridor between the sanctuary of individual homes and the outside world. Residents kept very much to themselves."

If less-than-ideal urban design leads to knowing fewer neighbors, the good news is that redesign can help fix it. After Appleyard's study, cities started adding more traffic calming circles and traffic diverters. Streets can be "rightsized" to make them more appropriate for residential neighborhoods. Beyond traffic interventions, designers can add new parks and other gathering places. Even just making the street better looking can make a difference; look at the transformation of a little street called Elgin Park in San Francisco, below. Which version makes you want to linger on the block?

Original top image via Shutterstock; bottom image via Google Maps and Mark Dreger.

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