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Clear Neighborhood Boundaries Build Reputation

humorous street sign at intersection of Springfield and Springfield

Neighborhood boundaries should be of great interest to your neighborhood association or other community organization.

You should be able to name the streets, rivers, and other geographic features that define your neighborhood. The real estate industry spells out neighborhood names as a marketing tool; in fact, Zillow, the on-line real estate information site, will be glad to give your neighborhood a name. However, we think it's better if you decide both your name and your territory.

The utility of formalizing your neighborhood boundaries does extend to marketing your community as an important place to receive attention from your local government or investors in housing for personal use or rental or development income.

The more people have a specific idea of the area you cover, the greater the opportunity for publicity, grants, and attracting residents and businesses.

It is also critical to know the neighborhood boundaries, of course, if you are going to prepare any grant applications or neighborhood plans.

The size of the neighborhood in population and area of course depends on whether you are in a dense urban area, small town, or a 50 square mile area, population 50. There aren't any rules of thumb we can give you for deciding on a size. Simply put, a neighborhood extends until there is a different neighborhood character defined by some of the features and characteristics we're going to discuss next.

Possible Ways to Define Your Neighborhood Boundaries

First, look at geography. Rivers, major highways and streets, sometimes railroad tracks, and large institutions such as parks, universities, or hospital complexes form natural boundaries. It's wise to fight those only if you have a strong historical basis for doing so.

For example, if the interstate highway sliced your neighborhood apart but you all still attend the same churches and schools, you probably should stick together, unless your population characteristics start to differ dramatically from one another.

If there is no natural boundary, then you have to look at your patterns of interaction. Where do people shop, learn, go to the post office, worship, and participate in Little League? Those are strong clues. However, sometimes when you don't have defined boundaries, it's because these social indicators are contradictory or the area is in transition.

School district borders, sharp economic differences, a noticeable change in architectural style, governmental borders, taxing districts, and subdivisions, especially those with gates or prominent markers and strong reputations, can give some guidance as well.

Maybe the neighborhood consists of a community of interest, such as all of the lakefront property owners, especially when the lake is a very large one and the properties away from the lake tend to relate to one another more than to the waterfront.

If you're unclear about neighborhood boundaries, my advice is to keep talking and asking people what they think. In many cases eventually people will agree. If not, it's time for an arbitrary decision.

If you're wrong, you'll discover it in the course of preparing a neighborhood plan, trying to create an organization, or selling city hall or a reporter on an image upgrade or a funding need.

The real estate industry may resist if you're not reinforcing their own perceptions, but your needs to understand your neighborhood in a coherent way are more important than their need to create a sense of exclusivity when it suits their purposes. Real estate offices also will try to add less desirable properties onto your neighborhood in order to market them better, so that's another reason to beware of their opinions.

But check on the data you will need, most notably the U.S. Census, before you draw a line. Having data on your population is a great help, and some data is not available at the block level but rather only at the larger census tract level.

When you divide the census tracts, you may not have a way to accurately obtain that data. (Information on population and characteristics of that population is called demographics).

If you have any history of other neighborhood organizations, what were their boundaries? If they don't exist anymore, did boundaries that didn’t resonate with people have anything to do with their demise?

Try to talk with people who remember these efforts.

If they found insufficient talent or interest in organized activity within the borders they had established, be sure you know what is different now before you try establishing a neighborhood organization, or the planning, marketing, and fundraising efforts that have led you to be interested in neighborhood boundaries.


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