The scale of a neighborhood
Mon, 12/26/2011 - 10:52pm | by mhicks
The idea of a neighborhood is a malleable concept. Everyone has a different perception of their own neighborhood's extent, and the extent can change depending on context. It can vary from the very small, such as merely counting houses immediately adjacent to your own, to quite large—perhaps miles in size.
Back in my early childhood, my sense of my own neighborhood was toward the extremely small end. I didn't think of it extending much more than a few houses away, though an exception was the nearby park, which my mother got a decent view of from her kitchen window. Put another way, the extent of my neighborhood was about the maximum distance at which my brother and I could hear my parents calling us home for supper in the evenings.
I was devastated in first and second grade when several nearby families with kids my age moved away. My circle of friends shrank a lot in a short time.
I often wonder how things might have been different if I'd grown up in a more compact, densely-populated community. My neighborhood was not particularly unusual for its time, with lot sizes of 1/4 to 1/3 acre, but that only allowed densities of around 1/2 to 1/4 of what's common in Minneapolis today.
Parents often choose suburban living because they feel it's safer and more fulfilling for kids, but there's a big caveat attached to that idea: If families arrive in a low-density neighborhood all at once, their kids will likely find many playmates. But as families cycle in and out and the area's demographics become more normal, the ability for kids to find new friends nearby goes downhill.
Of course, everyone is different, and some people thrive almost no matter what their circumstances are. However, a denser community would tend be more robust. More families, more children, more connections.