How big should a neighbourhood be?

Tuesday, May 6, at 9 a.m., at Veith House, will be the next meeting of the North End Multi-Service Roundtable.  The April roundtable was cancelled due to a blizzard (!), so this is a chance to catch up on what North End organizations are working on.  Notes from the March roundtable  and a general description of the roundtable concept  are on our website.

One question has come up a couple times recently: how big should a neighbourhood be?  The North End Community Circle’s purpose is to increase the sense of belonging, optimism and well-being amongst residents of North End Halifax.  The boundaries of the North End are ever contentious, and we don’t care to draw them in ink. But most of our work with residents happens further north. We’ve met at Ward 5 and Shambhala School, and most often at Needham Centre.

We actually put this question to Jim Diers (who visited Halifax in January and inspired a number of people to join the NECC) and he generously replied at some length:

“I think that neighborhoods work best when the residents themselves feel a common sense of identity. Oftentimes a local business district or school will provide the focal point. A distinct housing type or ethnic population might also give people that common identity. A local library, community center or park might provide the bumping places that are critical to developing the relationships that give people a common identity. Natural boundaries like a river or built boundaries like a freeway or major arterial might define the borders.

Of course, people identify with geographic communities at many different levels – their street, block or apartment complex; their larger neighborhood; and their even larger district (a high school, large community center or major shopping precinct might anchor this). I think that neighborhoods work best when they consist of 5000 or fewer residents. When it’s much larger, it’s hard to get to know everyone and it’s hard to get people involved because they’re always expecting someone else to do it at a larger scale.”

Then Jim added this important note: “if the purpose is to facilitate interagency coordination, you will need to have some boundaries and you may need to organize at a level larger than a neighbourhood.”

And that is exactly what we’re trying to do with the roundtable, and so all agencies working to serve residents from Cogswell to the far north end of the Peninsula are very welcome.

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