September 14, 2011

More than Design Needed to Create Communities

New Planners Press book explores the elements of successful communities.

CHICAGO — Design alone does not create a successful community according to author Sidney Brower in his new book Neighbors & Neighborhoods: Elements of Successful Community Design. Brower writes that communities are created through both physical and social components, what he calls community-generating properties.  He cautions that while design may give the "appearance" of a community, just because a place looks like a community does not mean it functions as one.

Neighbors & Neighborhoods: Elements of Successful Community DesignPublished by the American Planning Association's Planners Press, Neighbors & Neighborhoods explores the connection between community design and the ability of residents to come together as a community. Through Brower's observations and eye for detail, he identifies the elements that make for successful communities and will alter the reader's perception of communities.

Brower employs social science applications to help define the elements that make up a community. He questions if architects and planners are correct in assuming that the deterioration of a neighborhood is a direct result of poor neighborhood design.

Examining nearly 20 developments across the country — from Radburn, New Jersey, to Santa Fe, New Mexico — Brower identifies elements that contribute to successful communities. Four characteristics play a role in bringing together neighbors to form a community:

  1. Residents who share the same values and beliefs and are from the similar socioeconomic groups;
  2. Community organizations that engage residents and create a sense of community;
  3. Physical settings such as buildings or recreations areas to encourage local residents to meet and, with luck interact; and
  4. Ongoing traditions that serve to remind residents of a common or shared history (even if it is fictional).

Neighbors & Neighborhoods concludes by examining three challenges to creating a community: the decline of the neighborhood store; obstacles of social interaction among residents in a mixed-income community; and the fact that sharing a common interest does not mean that neighbors will necessarily become a community. Brower illustrates how plans, policies, and operations can help overcome those obstacles. He warns that even with design limitations, design can help contribute to the creation of new communities or strengthen existing communities — but a community cannot be achieved with design alone.

Neighbors & Neighborhoods is the third book in APA's Citizens Planning Series, a group of books that explore various urban and community planning practices. The other books in the series include The Citizen's Guide to Planning (4th ed.), and The Board of Adjustment.

Neighbors & Neighborhoods (ISBN: 978-1-611900-01-9) is available through for $27.95 ($18.95 for APA Members). Media review copies are available by contacting Roberta Rewers at


Roberta Rewers, APA Public Affairs; 312-786-6395;