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Neighborhood size

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I am a native and lifelong resident of one of the worst designed and worst operated cities in the world. Maybe it is my natural conservatism that makes me crave stability, but there is something instinctive in me that has always made me want to live in a small town or at least a small town neighborhood. I’ve been fascinated by new urbanism ever since I saw a segment on This Old House about Seaside, Florida in the 1980s. Then maybe 10 years later, while I was getting a bachelor’s degree in biology, I devised what I called the Urban Protocol- a set of guidelines for designing the perfect urban environment. It was only after I got out of college and started doing some research into urban planning that I realized that what I was after is New Urbanism.

But I am struck by what seems to be a glaring impossibility with new urbanist design. It takes about 1000 households to support an elementary school. An elementary school is the natural civic focal point of a neighborhood- the one thing that most of the neighborhood’s residents have in common either because their children go to the school or the school is used for community activities. But if you design a neighborhood that has a perpendicular grid street pattern, how can you put enough households to support the school in a geographic area where the longest distance from the neighborhood center (the school) to the outermost edge is only a 10 minute walk (2000-2600 feet)? Is there any way to put this many people in such a small amount of ground space and not end up with small houses that share common walls with each other even smaller apartments in rise buildings that blot out the sun?

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