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Here we seek a narrative for the role of neighborhood in these digital times.

The Traditional Neighborhood[edit]

A neighborhood is a geographically localized area within a larger city, town, suburb, or rural area. Neighborhoods foster considerable face-to-face interaction among residents via social interactions in personal settings. Neighborhood residents share values and establish mechanisms for socializing youth and maintaining social boundaries.[1]

Low Media Quotient[edit]

New York City neighborhoods have never had the luxury of good local communications. Compared to similarly sized entities elsewhere, Jackson Height' communication capacity during the industrial media era was negligible.

ᐅ ᐁ ᐃ ᐊ Terre Haute, Indiana Jackson Heights, New York
Population 105,000 100,000
Daily Newspapers 1 0
TV Stations 2 0
Radio Stations 8 0

Limited Capacity[edit]

With minimal local communication capacity, New York City neighborhoods have had limited organizing capability, and a limited ability to self-serve and influence the delivery of government services. Neighborhoods exist within a City Charter that barely recognizes them.

Today, drifting through an ocean of digital media capacity, we've seemingly achieved better person to person connections than during the industrial era. But in an era of rapid change, is it enough to keep our heads above the increasingly polluted digital media?

Digital Pollution[edit]

This page asks if, when, by whom, and how effective Jackson Heights' media might be provided in this digital era. It worries that Jackson Heights will zero out there as well, smothered by Google fixing search results, Facebook promoting sensational news and aiming for the minds of children as young as 6, and fake media, all polluting our information and communication ecology. It seeks a positive vision that avoids polluting our digital environment.

The New Neighborhood[edit]

  • Imagine if Jackson Heights took full advantage of today's communications and information technology.
  • That tech was carefully integrated to serve resident needs from nurseries to senior housing.
  • That continuous education was the reality.
  • Fostering inclusion and learning from our multiple cultures and governed by Open Town meetings...
  • That collaborative directories guided residents and visitors to services, products, and resources.
  • That a healthful civic environment thrived ...

Adding Community To The Neighborhood[edit]

Neighborhoods that add to their civic health and resident quality of life do so by fostering the development the various types of communities:

  • Action - composed of people trying to bring about social change.
  • Circumstance - people brought together by external events/situations
  • Interest - people who share the same interest or passion.
  • Position - built around life stages: teenage years, university/college student years, marriage, or parenthood...
  • Practice - people in the same profession or undertaking the same activities.

Neighborhoods in the New York City Charter and Administrative Code[edit]

While every New Yorker lives in a neighborhood, the formal role of neighborhoods, as viewed by New York City's government, is limited: being mentioned 12 times in the New York City Charter and 23 times in the Administrative Code. See here.


Neighborhoods in History[edit]

In the words of the urban scholar Lewis Mumford, “Neighborhoods, in some primitive, inchoate fashion exist wherever human beings congregate, in permanent family dwellings; and many of the functions of the city tend to be distributed naturally—that is, without any theoretical preoccupation or political direction—into neighborhoods.” [2]

Most of the earliest cities around the world as excavated by archaeologists have evidence for the presence of social neighborhoods.[3] Historical documents shed light on neighborhood life in numerous historical preindustrial or nonwestern cities.[4]

Neighborhoods are typically generated by social interaction among people living near one another. In this sense they are local social units larger than households not directly under the control of city or state officials. In some preindustrial urban traditions, basic municipal functions such as protection, social regulation of births and marriages, cleaning and upkeep are handled informally by neighborhoods and not by urban governments; this pattern is well documented for historical Islamic cities.[5]

In addition to social neighborhoods, most ancient and historical cities also had administrative districts used by officials for taxation, record-keeping, and social control.[6] Administrative districts are typically larger than neighborhoods and their boundaries may cut across neighborhood divisions. In some cases, however, administrative districts coincided with neighborhoods, leading to a high level of regulation of social life by officials. For example, in the T’ang period Chinese capital city Chang’an, neighborhoods were districts and there were state officials who carefully controlled life and activity at the neighborhood level.[7]

Neighborhoods in preindustrial cities often had some degree of social specialization or differentiation. Ethnic neighborhoods were important in many past cities and remain common in cities today. Economic specialists, including craft producers, merchants, and others, could be concentrated in neighborhoods, and in societies with religious pluralism neighborhoods were often specialized by religion. One factor contributing to neighborhood distinctiveness and social cohesion in past cities was the role of rural to urban migration. This was a continual process in preindustrial cities, and migrants tended to move in with relatives and acquaintances from their rural past.[8]

Features and Advantages of Neighborhoods[edit]

Jackson Heights Historic District street sign 1.png

Neighborhoods have several traditional advantages as an arena for social action:

  • Neighborhoods are convenient, and always accessible, since you are already in your neighborhood when you walk out your door.
  • Successful neighborhood action frequently requires little specialized technical skill, and often little or no money.
  • With neighborhood action, compared to activity on larger scales, results are more likely to be visible and quickly forthcoming. The streets are cleaner; the crosswalk is painted; the trees are planted; the festival draws a crowd.
  • Visible and swift results are indicators of success; and since success is reinforcing, the probability of subsequent neighborhood action is increased.
  • Because neighborhood action usually involves others, such actions create or strengthen connections and relationships (community) with other neighbors, leading in turn to a variety of potentially positive effects, often hard to predict.
  • Over and above these community advantages, neighborhood activity may simply be enjoyable and fun for those taking part; and can often tighten security for those partaking in neighborhood watch communities.
  • Considerable research indicates that strong and cohesive neighborhoods and communities are linked—quite possibly causally linked—to decreases in crime, better outcomes for children, and improved physical and mental health. The social support that a strong neighborhood may provide can serve as a buffer against various forms of adversity.

Service Delivery[edit]

Neighborhoods have been the site of service delivery or "service interventions" in part as efforts to provide local, quality services, and to increase the degree of local control and ownership.[9] Alfred Kahn, as early as the mid-1970s, described the "experience, theory and fads" of neighborhood service delivery over the prior decade, including discussion of income transfers and poverty.[10] Neighborhoods, as a core aspect of community, also are the site of services for youth, including children with disabilities[11] and coordinated approaches to low-income populations.[12] While the term neighborhood organisation[13] is not as common in 2015, these organisations often are non-profit, sometimes grassroots or even core funded community development centres or branches.

Economic Development[edit]

Economic development activists have pressured for reinvestment in local neighborhoods. In the early 2000s, Community Development Corporations, Rehabilitation Networks, Neighborhood Development Corporations, and Economic Development organizations would work together to address the housing stock and the infrastructures of communities and neighborhoods (e.g., community centers).[14] Community and Economic Development may be understood in different ways, and may involve "faith-based" groups and congregations in cities.[15]


  1. Wikipedia
  2. Mumford, Lewis (1954). The Neighborhood and the Neighborhood Unit. Town Planning Review 24:256–270, p. 258.
  3. For example, Spence, Michael W. (1992) Tlailotlacan, a Zapotec Enclave in Teotihuacan. In Art, Ideology, and the City of Teotihuacan, edited by Janet C. Berlo, pp. 59–88. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. Stone, Elizabeth C. (1987) Nippur Neighbourhoods. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization vol. 44. Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago
  4. Some examples: Heng, Chye Kiang (1999) Cities of Aristocrats and Bureaucrats: The Development of Medieval Chinese Cityscapes. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu. Marcus, Abraham (1989) The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century. Columbia University Press, New York. Smail, Daniel Lord (2000). Imaginary Cartographies: Possession and Identity in Late Medieval Marseille. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
  5. Abu-Lughod, Janet L. (1987) The Islamic City: Historic Myth, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19:155–176.
  6. Dickinson, Robert E. (1961) The West European City: A Geographical Interpretation. Routledge & Paul, London, p. 529. See also: Jacobs, Jane (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House, New York, p. 117.
  7. Xiong, Victor Cunrui (2000) Sui-Tang Chang'an: A Study in the Urban History of Medieval China. Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
  8. Kemper, Robert V. (1977) Migration and Adaptation: Tzintzuntzan Peasants in Mexico City. Sage Publications, Beverly Hills. Greenshields, T. H. (1980) "Quarters" and Ethnicity. In The Changing Middle Eastern City, edited by G. H. Blake and R. I. Lawless, pp. 120–140. Croom Helm, London.
  9. King, B. & Meyers, J. (1996). The Annie E. Casey Foundation's mental health initiative for urban children. (pp. 249-261). In: B. Stroul & R.M. Friedman, Children's Mental Health. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
  10. Kahn, A.J. (1976). Service delivery at the neighborhood level: Experience, theory and fads. Social Service Review, 50(1): 23-56.
  11. Kutash, K., Duchnowski, A.J., Meyers, J. & King, B. (1997). Ch. 3: Community and neighborhood-based services for youth. In: S. Henggeler & A. B. Santor, Innovative Approaches to Difficult to Treat Populations. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
  12. Riessman, F. (1967). A neighborhood-based mental health approach. (pp.1620184). In: E. Cowen, E. Gardier, & M. Zak, Emergent Approaches to Mental Health Problems. NY, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  13. Cunningham, J V. & Kotler, M. (1983). Building Neighborhood Organizations. Notre Dame & London: Notre Dame Press.
  14. Rubin, H.J. (2000). Renewing Hope Within Neighborhoods of Despair: The Community-Based Development Model. Albany, NY: State University of New York.
  15. Mc Roberts, O.M. (2001, January/February). Black Churches, community and development. Shelterforce Online. Washington, DC: Author. at

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