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• 1) Most “communities” are not real communities
• I get the sense that the term “community” is really hot in the
advertising/marketing/sales/startup/event space, because it alludes
to more than just a transactional customer-company relationship.
But most of the “communities” I come across, are in my opinion
not actual communities. I hear the word being used, when really the
authors mean a series of monthly events, a Facebook page, a group
of customers that has loyalty towards a specific brand, a yearly
conference, all customers of an e-commerce brand, social media
followers, everyone who uses Twitter, people who happen to vote
the same way, etc.
• I think the traditional definition is missing a key piece. “A
feeling of
fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common
attitudes, interests and goals”: this part comes closer to modern forms
of communities. Everyone in it has something in common. However, I think it’s too
broad and vague. I have so, so many attitudes, interests and goals that I share with
other people. But that doesn’t mean yet that I’ll feel a sense of community with
them. For that, it needs relationships. More on this piece below.
• “A group of people”: in the end of the day, a community
always exists of humans. That seems obvious at first, but I see a lot
of use of the word that is dehumanized and abstract: “the marketing
community”, “the international community”, “the St. Clarke’s Streets
community”, the “AirBnB community”. In the end, we are talking
about real humans with real lives, real stories, real hopes, real
that care about each other”: this is in my opinion the
• “
absolute core of a community. The individuals in a group are not
just random strangers, they have relationships with each other. They
give a shit about each other. They care more about the people in
this group than about the average person they meet on the street.
This is where the magic of a community happens.When people
care about each other, they develop trust. And trust unlocks
collaboration, sharing, support, hope, safety and much more. While
most organizations in the world optimize their performance
towards external goals, communities optimize for trust.
• “feel they belong”: communities address one of the most
fundamental human needs: we want to be loved, we don’t want to be
lonely and we want to know that we belong somewhere. Real
communities give us this sense of home, this sense of family, this
sense of “these are my peers”. This is my tribe, this is where I
belong. In this group, I am being accepted for who I really am.
• “together”: a community gives people a sense of shared identity.
We are together. The sum is bigger than the individual parts. This
shared identity matters, because it takes the group beyond
individual, 1:1 relationships. It turns strangers into trusted peers
through a proxy effect: even though I don’t know you, I trust you
more than the average person because we are part of the same
community, we share the same identity. Many of us express our
interests, ambitions and goals through the people we spend time
with—communities become part of our identity.

The source of most conflicts and confusion I
see occurring when cities update their
Community Plans is due to the confusion
over the scale and size difference of a
‘Community’ versus a ‘Neighborhood’
A community is defined as, “a group of people
living in the same place or having a particular
characteristic in common.” Many places have
different communities inhabiting them, such as an
elderly, or arts, or ethnic community living and/or
working in close proximity to one another. Even
the internet can be considered a place inhabited
by many diverse communities. So the scale,
parameters, and character of a community-scaled
planning effort is difficult to define.
Usually, community planning areas are defined by
political boundaries, or historic development plats
and, in some deplorable cases, old insurance red-
lining practices that gave a city its initial zoning
districts. This being the case, I contend that the
neighborhood unit is a better tool to define, plan,
and express policies and regulations necessary to
preserve, enhance and, yes, build great places.
The neighborhood is a physical place — varied in
intensity from more rural to more urban — that
many different communities inhabit. At its essence,
whether downtown, midtown or out-of-town, its
health and viability (in terms of both resilience and
quality of life) is defined by certain basic
characteristics. Easily observable in neighborhoods
that work, these characteristics have been
articulated a variety of ways over the years — most
notably for me by Andrés Duany and Mike Stepnor.
Combined, they form what I like to call the 5 Cs:
• Great neighborhoods host a mix of uses in order to provide for our
daily need to live, work, play, worship, dine, shop, and talk to each
• Each neighborhood has a center, a general middle area, and an edge.
• The reason suburban sprawl sprawls is because it has no defined
centers and therefore no defined edge.
• Civic spaces generally (though not always) define a neighborhood’s
center while commerce tends to happen on the edges, on more
highly traffic-ed streets and intersections easily accessible by two or
more neighborhoods.
• The more connected a neighborhood is, the more variety of
commercial goods and services can be offered, as not every
neighborhood needs a tuxedo shop or a class ‘A’ office building.
• The 5-minute walk from center to edge, a basic rule-of-thumb for
walkability, equates to approximately 80 to 160 acres, or 9 to 18
city blocks. This general area includes public streets, parks, and
natural lands, as well as private blocks, spaces and private buildings.
This scale may constrict in the dead of winter and/or heat of
summer, and expand during more temperate months. Compactness
comes in a range of intensities that are dependent upon local
• Each neighborhood must be defined by its local context, meaning
shapes can, and absolutely do, vary. Edges may be delineated by high
speed thoroughfares (such as within Chicago’s vast grid), steep
slopes and natural corridors (as found in Los Angeles), or other
physical barriers.
• Great neighborhoods are walkable, drivable, and bike-able with or
without transit access. But, these are just modes of transportation.
To be socially connected, neighborhoods should also be linger-able,
sit-able, and hang out-able.
• Great neighborhoods have a variety of civic spaces, such as plazas,
greens, recreational parks, and natural parks. They have civic
buildings, such a libraries, post offices, churches, community centers
and assembly halls. They should also have a variety of thoroughfare
types, such as cross-town boulevards, Main Streets, residential
avenues, streets, alleys, bike lanes and paths. Due to their inherent
need for a variety of land uses, they provide many different types of
private buildings such as residences, offices, commercial buildings
and mixed-use buildings. This complexity of having both public and
private buildings and places provides the elements that define a
neighborhood’s character.
• The livability and social aspect of a neighborhood is driven by the
many and varied communities that not only inhabit, but meet, get
together, and socialize within a neighborhood. Meaning “friendly,
lively and enjoyable,” convivial neighborhoods provide the gathering
places — the coffee shops, pubs, ice creme shops, churches,
clubhouses, parks, front yards, street fairs, block parties, living
rooms, back yards, stoops, dog parks, restaurants and plazas — that
connect people. How we’re able to socially connect physically is
what defines our ability to endure and thrive culturally. It’s these
connections that ultimately build a sense of place, a sense of safety,
and opportunities for enjoyment… which is hard to maintain when
trying to update a community plan without utilizing the
Neighborhood Unit as the key planning tool.
Comprising places and buildings that are resource-efficient,
healthy, durable, resilient, and “lovable” (i.e. per Steve Mouzon,
the more lovable a place/building, the more likely the local
society will make an effort to maintain/conserve it); minimizing
the development footprint to allow more land for other needs,
such as open space, agriculture, and natural habitat
offering context-appropriate use of technology, as well
as low maintenance and operational costs; repairable
and adaptable