Historically, New York City neighborhood borders, purpose, and roles have been nebulous. This page rethinks them in concert with our digital times and the issuance of city deeds to neighborhood domain names, e.g., JacksonHeights.nyc. Its vision is toward a broad 'civic planning' oriented neighborhood - having a shared climate, governance, history, retail, schools, and transportation - while striving for inclusion of the comforting, extended family of Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
- 1 Neighborhood Name Origins
- 2 Neighborhood Borders
- 3 Neighborhoods in History
- 4 Neighborhood Scale and Scope
- 5 How do people choose one neighborhood over another?
- 6 Features and Advantages of Neighborhoods
- 7 Traditional NYC Neighborhood Limitations
- 8 Devolution Time
- 9 Imagining The Jackson Heights "Cityhood"
- 10 Related Wiki Pages
- 11 References
- 12 External Links
Neighborhood Name Origins
New York City neighborhood names have several origins. Some, like Greenwich Village, Long Island City, and Flushing were formally independent entities that were incorporated into the city as it grew from a trading post at the southern tip of Manhattan to a 5 county Greater New York. Others, such as Jackson Heights and Forest Hills were seen as attractive marketing names by real estate developers. Regardless of origin, today every New Yorker knows her/his neighborhood.
While the city has reserved 385 neighborhood domain names, one might question the viability of some. One prognosticator imagines a reduction in the number of neighborhoods as residents affiliate with one they perceive as most representative of their interests.
Neighborhoods in History
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.” 
Most of the earliest cities around the world as excavated by archaeologists have evidence for the presence of social neighborhoods. Historical documents shed light on neighborhood life in numerous historical preindustrial or nonwestern cities.
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.
In addition to social neighborhoods, most ancient and historical cities also had administrative districts used by officials for taxation, record-keeping, and social control. 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.
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.
Neighborhood Scale and Scope
When speaking of 'neighborhood' one must keep in mind that the word scales differently by location. Here in New York City we have nearly 400 neighborhoods. And with a population approaching 9,000,000 the average size of is 22,000. Compare this with our state capital's population of 75,000 and 27 neighborhoods. Doing the math, Albany's neighborhoods have an average of 3,000 residents vs. NYC's 22,000 - with Jackson Heights an outlier with 100,000 residents. Neighborhoods larger than capitol cities!
How do people choose one neighborhood over another?
Everyone has their individual reasons for choosing a neighborhood with that decision arising from some combination of factors found in "Why do people stay in the places they live?" below and the "Why do people live where they do?" article from Trulia that follows it.
Why people stay in the places they live
- personal safety, measured specifically by how safe people felt when walking in their neighborhoods after dark (with a correlation of .44 of 100)
- the availability of high quality parks and recreation (.37 correlation)
- availability of good-paying jobs (.34)
- air quality (.33)
- the availability of high-quality arts, culture and nightlife (.30)
- the quality of water that comes out of the tap (.26)
- the physical condition of roads, bridges and infrastructure (.25)
- schools were a factor especially for families with school-age children (.22)
- the ability of local public schools to prepare children for college and garnering an (.18)
- housing costs and housing affordability are hotly debated issues, neither the availability of affordable rental housing (.16)
- the availability of affordable homes for purchase (.17)
The Trulia Factors
And Trulia, a real estate blog, presents a set of factors that guide people to a desirable neighborhood. 
- Lifestyle match - Is the neighborhood in sync with your current lifestyle? Both renters and home buyers tend to gravitate to areas with similar demographics. Just as a fantastic suburban neighborhood in a gated community may not be right for a young single professional, a family with three small children might not find a small condo in a hip downtown neighborhood to be the best fit for their lifestyle.
- Pride in ownership - Pride in ownership is obvious when the residents maintain their homes and care about their neighborhood. Neighbors connect and create local groups that bring the residents together for the betterment of the area.
- Low crime rate - Low crime rates give a neighborhood a sense of ease and calm. Crime rates are a quick way to tell if a neighborhood is improving or not, since everyone is concerned with safety and security. You can usually spot a transitional and improving neighborhood by the improvement in its crime rates.
- Great schools - For homeowners and renters with children, great schools top the list of what makes a great neighborhood. Trulia shows school ratings using data from Great Schools. Integrating the data into map views lets house hunters see which schools are highly rated and also read reviews from actual parents of students in that district. Not only are great schools important for families with children, but they also make the surrounding neighborhoods more valuable and more sought after, keeping property values strong.
- Outdoor activities abound - Being close to the outdoor adventures you love can sweeten the appeal of your neighborhood. Being close (or within a reasonable drive) to places to jog, sail, or pedal can keep you in love with your home. Proximity and access to tennis courts, neighborhood swim clubs, and golf courses are also qualities that keep your neighborhood on par.
- Stepping back in time - There’s something about an area with history that makes it very desirable. Tree-lined streets give neighborhoods a charming, older, and established feel. These neighborhoods are usually very stable, with longtime residents and community support, which also helps encourage safety and low crime rates.
- Access to medical care - Being close enough to get to a hospital or doctor’s office quickly is key for many people, especially for seniors, retirees, and families with young children.
- Family-friendly - Neighborhoods where plenty of families live are a real draw for buyers with children. There are more opportunities for children to play, socialize, and make lifelong friends. Carpooling groups and other children’s programs are much more accessible when the neighborhood is overflowing with kiddos.
- Close to public transportation - Easy access to public transportation is a fantastic plus for a neighborhood and an amenity for almost any lifestyle. From a commuting millennial to a retiree who wishes to keep the car at home, public transit is a solid upgrade to any neighborhood.
- Nearby shopping and restaurants - If you want to join the hustle and bustle (and don’t want to cook dinner every night), having great restaurants, shopping, and markets in close proximity is a must!
- Nightlife and entertainment - Is there a nearby town center or downtown with movies, theaters, bars, and nightlife? This could be the one thing that makes your neighborhood come alive. This is a priority for anyone who is young and single, but everyone appreciates a neighborhood where the hot spots are within walking distance or a short cab ride away.
- Walkability - Being able to leave the car keys at home and hit the pavement to walk to markets, shopping, restaurants, parks, and all the other amenities your neighborhood has to offer can alleviate a lot of road rage … and make you fall even more deeply in love with your neighborhood.
So how and why do people choose a neighborhood? Answer: it's complicated.
Features and Advantages of Neighborhoods
Most days we sleep and awaken in our neighborhood. Here's a list of what they offer and how they might impact upon our lives.
Our civic-planning oriented neighborhood is a geographic area with:
- safety, health, and comfort expectations as both reality and aspiration
- a shared history, memory, social values, climate, and built environment
- a complex infrastructure with maintenance needs and expectations
- a multitude of requirements imposed upon it by city, state, and federal governments
- an area with economic development hopes and opportunities
- offering the opportunities and tools to modify the lived environment
Strong neighborhoods provide social support as buffers and salves for when these are provided imperfectly.
Strong neighborhoods serve fundamental human needs providing buffers and salves to smooth humanity's coarseness. Frequently these are delivered via social action. Other times they are innate.
- Neighborhoods are convenient and accessible with near-zero transportation costs: you're in your neighborhood when you walk out your front door.
- Neighborhoods connect people and communities enabling civic action.
- For a range of civic actions little specialized technical skill is required. Often, little or no money is required, with elbow grease and social capital, the currency with meaning.
- Compared to activity on larger scales, the results neighborhood action are more likely to be visible and quickly forthcoming: streets cleaner; crosswalk painted; trees planted; a festival drawing 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, building community with other neighbors, often leading to a variety of potentially positive side effects.
- Neighborhood activity may simply be enjoyable and fun for those taking part.
- Research indicates that strong and cohesive neighborhoods are linked — quite possibly causally linked — to decreases in crime, better outcomes for children, and improved physical and mental health.
And to some, most importantly, neighborhoods are the crucible of children's lives.
Traditional NYC Neighborhood Limitations
Historically, NYC neighborhood effectiveness in shaping their future has been limited by several factors.
- Neighborhoods barely exist within the City Charter.
- Support by city government of neighborhoods is minuscule to non-existent.
- Gerrymander has resulted in the neighborhood being represented by several people in city and state legislatures, e.g., see graphic right and City Council Election 2021 - Jackson Heights Issues.
Low Media Quotient
Historically, New York City neighborhoods have had poor local communications. For example, during the industrial media era (i.e., before the internet), Jackson Heights' communication capacity was quite limited in comparison to similarly sized entities outside the region.
ᐁ What / Where ᐅ Terre Haute, Indiana Jackson Heights, New York Population 105,000 100,000 Daily Newspapers 1 0 TV Stations 2 0 Radio Stations 8 0
One might infer from the above that Jackson Heights' three 0s represent a media strikeout. Our minimal communication capacity limits the capacity of residents to effectively dialogue, organize, and self-serve; to organize and effectively participate in the governance process to influence the type, quality, and delivery of government services.
From Scarcity to a Toxic Digital Ocean?
This JacksonHeights.nyc Initiative looks to answer the question "If, when, by whom, and how might an effective Jackson Heights media emerge in this digital era?" And how would it tie in and impact Neighborhood Governance.
It wonders if Jackson Heights will 'zero out' in this digital era as it did in the industrial. Will it be smothered by googles fixing search results; facebooks promoting sensational news, selling our attention, aiming for the minds of children as young as 6? Will fake media pollute our information and communication ecology?
But even sloshing our way through these limitations, with an ocean of digital media capacity, it appears we have better person-to-person connections than during the industrial era. But some ask:
In an era of rapid change, privileged as we are to live in an era of abundance, within the greatest city ever, is it enough to simply keep our heads above an increasingly polluted digital media? Positioned to act in a meaningful way, are we obliged to do so? Is the time ripe for another devolution?
NIMBY vs Effective Planning
With these limited capabilities, neighborhoods too often resort with NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) in reaction to new ideas. This sharpens the most dispiriting arrow in a property developers quiver, cries of NIMBY .
Neighborhoods in the New York City Charter and Administrative Code
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 this page for instances of neighborhoods being mentioned in the city's Charter and Administrative Code here.)
Over the past century we evolved from one a single county city (New York, Manhattan) to a 5 borough city. And we've transitioned from a highly centralized city to one composed of 59 Community Districts, each with 50 residents serving on a Community board.
Might it now be time to formalize and empower neighborhoods? The city took an initial step in that direction with the reservation of 385 neighborhood domain names, e.g., JacksonHeights.nyc. But one must ask if a 100,000 population entity, with a measure of local control is a neighborhood or 'cityhood.' And what governance responsibilities devolve to the neighborhoods?
Imagining The Jackson Heights "Cityhood"
We now have a digital common officially ordained and licensed by city hall - JacksonHeights.nyc. Let's imagine the Jackson Heights neighborhood in perhaps 5 years (2024), when its residents have built out this digital layer.
- It will be a growing neighborhood with the former Astoria Heights once again referring to itself as Jackson Heights, along with the south side of Roosevelt Avenue to Elmhurst Hospital.
- the official landmark district will have been extended to cover the areas following Edward A. MacDougall's concepts.
- the area will use 'open' tech to serve resident needs from the nursery to Age-in-Place Housing.
- with lifelong education a reality
- fostering inclusion
- learning from our multiple cultures
- using collaboratively developed directories to guide residents and visitors to local services, products, and resources
- creating a healthful civic environment and healthy neighborhood
- operating our own local media
- governed by digital and face-to-face meetings and Town Halls that speak to the legacy governance system with one voice.
We're Not In Facebook Any More
A network is not a community.
A community used to connote a specific group of people, from a particular patch of earth, who knew and judged and kept an eye on one another, who shared habits and history and memories, and could at times be persuaded to act as a whole on behalf of a part.
Today it describes what are really networks, as in the “business community” — ”people with common interests [but] not common values, history, or memory.”
Neighborhoods have common values, history, and memory. These are fundamental to the existence we've crafted for ourselves since we first agreed to gather around a common campfire.
Now, in an era of rapid change, privileged as we are to live in an era of abundance within the greatest city ever, is it enough to simply keep our heads above an increasingly polluted digital media?
Using our city granted deed to the JacksonHeights.nyc digital common, we are positioned to act in a meaningful way.
Adding Community To The Neighborhood
Neighborhoods foster civic health and quality of life by aiding local communities:
- action communities - people trying to bring about social change
- communities of circumstance - people brought together by external events/situations
- interest communities - people who share the same interest or passion
- positional communities - built around life stages: teenage years, university/college student years, marriage, or parenthood
- communities of practice - people in the same profession or undertaking the same activities.
Related Wiki Pages
- Civics 101
- Neighborhood Boundaries
- Neighborhood Assets
- Steps To A Stronger Jackson Heights
- Citations of of the word "neighborhoods" in the New York City Charter and Administrative Code.
- Mumford, Lewis (1954). The Neighborhood and the Neighborhood Unit. Town Planning Review 24:256–270, p. 258.
- 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
- 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.
- Abu-Lughod, Janet L. (1987) The Islamic City: Historic Myth, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19:155–176.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
-  Wikipedia on Albany, June 16, 2018
- City Lab
- Atlantic Media/Siemen's State of the City Poll
- July 28, 2018 data capture
- Learn about the governance of JacksonHeights.nyc and who the "all" is in that ominous "We."
- HBR: We Need Both Networks and Communities