Neighborhood Centers

Authored by: Emily Talen

The Routledge Handbook of Housing Policy and Planning

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138188433
eBook ISBN: 9781315642338
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



This chapter traces the history and complications of providing a neighborhood with an identifiable, physical center. Historians have documented that centralized civic spaces have long played an essential role in neighborhood life. Such spaces provide a means of connecting people to one another, and also to some larger common, public purpose. In this way, they can be thought of as a physical articulation of “community”—a tangible, permanent symbol of the common bond that people living in the same neighborhood share. A neighborhood center potentially mitigates argumentation over boundaries by shifting the focus to the “heart” of the neighborhood rather than to its external delimitation. Rather than being exclusionary, as boundaries can be, centers are centripetal, providing a common, centrally located destination for surrounding residents. In terms of physical design parameters, centers are often thought of as being the actual geographic heart of a neighborhood; if the center can be positioned in a geographically central way, it maximizes access. Large, publicly owned vacant parcels are often avoided as possible centers, because they lack good accessibility. Planning for centers in new neighborhoods is a matter of prescribing the right location, size, and functionality. Planning for centers in existing neighborhoods might be a matter of repurposing an existing space to create a neighborhood center where none currently exists. If the neighborhood is diverse in terms of housing types and land uses, a neighborhood center is believed to be a good way to link and integrate the mix, which might otherwise lack any deliberate, meaningful connection in terms of physical design. Because of this important role, more effort could be put into nurturing neighborhood center definition and designation. This starts with identifying the resources at hand: What uses, public or private, currently function as a neighborhood’s center? What are the neighborhood’s requirements for shared space, and are those needs being met?

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.