We’ve seen the lists on various city and travel blogs – The best neighbourhoods in [Your City Name Here]. While all of these lists are subjective and likely designed to drive clicks and eyeballs to various ads, there has to be something about a given neighbourhood that makes it better than another. We’ve likely all been to neighbourhoods in our travels that prompt us to say “I could live here” or “Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in a place like this”. But what makes them so great? What are the particular things that make neighbourhoods in a wide variety of cultural and physical contexts particularly liveable? After thinking and studying urban neighbourhoods, as a curious observer and now as part of my professional life, I believe that the following aspects exist in some form or another in every great neighbourhood. 

  1. A park (or public square) – A place for people to gather and play and relax is an essential part of a thriving neighbourhood. The sounds of children laughing and playing, people walking their dogs along, the older gentleman sitting on a bench. These are the rhythms of places people want to be. Whether a small pocket park, a larger green, a central paved square, or any number of various formats, these places make living in a particular place liveable and lovable. As a place to soak up a beautiful day and organically intersect with the widest cross-section of residents, the park or square is one of the central places where life is lived communally and it is a key ingredient in making a great neighbourhood.  

  2. A community school – The best neighbourhoods are multi-generational, and the key to a thriving neighbourhood is families with children. They keep the “life” in the place. Having a school in the neighbourhood to which kids can walk or ride their bikes or scooters is makes for interest and excitement. The school can also become a central community hub of sorts, hosting events and gatherings. A community school becomes a way for the neighbourhood to embrace its present and support its future. 

  3. A great independent coffee shop – Nowhere in the neighbourhood is there a place where I see my neighbours more regularly than the coffee shop. After we drop our kids at school the community migrates to the coffee shop to caffeinate and commune with one another. As a social hub and easy meeting spot, the coffee shop is the kind of safe “third place” we all need. 

  4. A local pub/restaurant – The evening version of the coffee shop, a neighbourhood pub or restaurant is the place we see each other on a regular day. Space for friends to gather and relax or for families to get out of the house, a local pub is the social grease that keeps the neighbourhood humming. 

  5. A thriving faith community – An essential part of any community is its local faith community. Throughout history most neighbourhoods first non-residential building was a place of worship. When healthy and thriving, a faith community invests back into the neighbourhood, supports those in need, and provides counselling and spiritual support for individuals, couples, and families. A strong faith community lifts the collective spirit and reminds us of our place in the world.