Mr. Rogers and Neighborhood Improvement in Holland

mr.-rogers

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please,
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

(I know, now it’s in your head! Go ahead, take a a minute to relive your childhood… You can listen to the song here.)

Neighborhoods are a city’s lifeblood. When Placemakers got to talking about what’s going right and wrong in San Diego’s neighborhoods, I decided to see if anything new was happening in Holland…

And there is! But before we get into the local details, let’s talk a little bit about the type of neighborhood we’re discussing.  That might seem obvious, but it helps to know that we’re on the same page with what we’re talking about.

Successful neighborhoods have common components.

In this context, a neighborhood is more than a collection of houses.  PlaceMakers uses “Five Cs” to define a complete neighborhood, and includes things like being complete (having stores, restaurants, and housing in the same place), compact enough to walk around, and convivial, so you enjoy interacting with your neighbors.  In essence, we’re talking about areas that are livable, something I alluded to this a few weeks ago with a quote from outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LeHood: “Livability means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids at the park – all without having to get in your car.”

Now, suburban neighborhoods aren’t going to meet these standards by a long shot.  Unfortunately, neither do many city neighborhoods.  And key point here is that this is about reintroducing choice, not necessarily removing it. You can choose to drive around your walkable neighborhood if you really want to; you can choose to live in a car-centric neighborhood. That’s okay (although there are economic implications to the latter that go beyond the cost of gas – see Strong Towns for more on that). But every single city and town should have solid areas where this choice is available to people of all ages and family sizes.

I’m thrilled to see that the City of Holland seems to be making efforts in the right direction by rolling the Community Development Committee, the OurStreet Committee and the Neighborhood Advisory Committee all into the new Neighborhood Improvement Committee! This is the type of thing that has the potential to make Holland awesome. It tells me that when the City said that it wanted to focus on making the Central Neighborhoods neighborhoods of choice, they were serious. We’ll be watching closely and crossing our fingers for a strong execution.

You can find the summary document here, and the full strategy here.  As I browse through the documents, here are some things I love:

  • The stated preference for neighborhoods containing “a balance of income levels.” This kind of mixing promotes all sorts of social goods.
  • Along those lines, that there is diversity in the kind of housing available that can “accommodate different household sizes, income levels, housing types, and density.”
  • The document mentions that “traffic patterns and speeds” ought not to detract from the neighborhood. This is important – cars drive crazy fast through Holland, and the big old police department SUVs are no exception. A pet peeve of mine, and a real threat to walkability.
  • A goal of good schools, public transportation, and nearby workplaces. These are all essential elements of a livable community.

And some things I don’t:

  • Several mentions of demolition and rebuilding as a tool for revitalization.  We’ve been down that road before with the “urban renewal” of the sixties, and it is not a pretty place to be (Cabrini Green, anyone?). While that’s obviously that’s an extreme example, we need to be very, very careful in using this kind of “tool”.
  • A desire to reduce the number of two-family homes.  Multiple-family homes in this area tend to be low-income rental properties, and I agree that a concentration of poverty is problematic. But the suburban ideal of single-family homes is also problematic in the city because they reduce the number of people in a neighborhood, making it a less lively and desirable place.
  • The mention of further additions to the housing code to require things to be prettier. I like pretty things an awful lot, but I think the person paying the mortgage has the right to to have a couch on their porch if that’s what they want. People move to the country so nobody will tell them what to do with their property; being overly restrictive is no fun.

The next meeting of the Neighborhood Improvement Committee will be on Tuesday, February 19 at 4:00 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall. Although I’m unlikely to be able to attend (unless I bring my kids – that would be entertaining!), I encourage you to check it out if you think this is interesting.

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