Spring is in the air. Strolling along downtown, I cannot help but notice progress in every direction. Storefronts are filling up again, new restaurants including Elm, Boulevard 18, Red Mango, and have opened, teak benches have been installed along with new lampposts along the village walkways. Kudos to the , the , the 2010 Senior Health Care and Housing Policy Development Team and the residents who have supported all of these efforts and more to make our community a great place to “grow up and grow old.”
Lately, I have been doing a lot of research into Connecticut communities, largely because our house is for sale and my husband has a long commute to work. But I cannot seem to find another town to love as much as New Canaan. I am invested in our community. I identify with the families who are driven to volunteer countless hours toward the continual improvement of our town. I founded Nourish New Canaan to improve the health of our community in an effort to give back. I fought for the Main Street sidewalk, created the , earned a seat on the farmers market committee and gratefully attend as many lectures at as my schedule allows. I even take Italian at the senior center. The more involved I get, the more I appreciate the opportunities afforded in spite of our low taxes in this family-oriented community. In almost seven years of living in-town, I have taken full advantage of the great places we have within our neighborhood to relax, have fun and see one another.
So, it was with great pride that I read the six highlights that make a neighborhood great according to The Great Neighborhood Book, knowing that we have these six principles covered and then some:
1. Good places promote sociability
These are the spots where you run into people you know, where you take friends and family when you want to show them the neighborhood. These places become the heart and soul of the neighborhood because they offer people many different reasons to go there.
2. Good places have lots of things to do
The places people love most are the ones where they can pursue a variety of activities. Without opportunities to do something more than sit and look around, the experience you have in that place is “thin” — there is nothing to keep you there for any length of time.
3. Good places are comfortable and attractive
They beckon you to come visit. Flowers, comfortable benches with a nice view, and attractive lighting all make you feel this is a place you want to come to often. In contrast, a place that lacks these kind of amenities often feels unwelcoming and a bit threatening. It may actually be unsafe or just feel unsafe, but either way no one wants to be there.
4. Good places are accessible
These places are clearly identifiable from a distance, easy to enter when you get closer, and it is simple to understand how you use them. A space that is not accessible will be end up empty, forlorn and often dilapidated.
5. Good places capitalize on the Power of 10
Think of the 10 most important places in your neighborhood. It could be the main shopping street, a park, playground, an interesting shop, a library, post office etc. Zoom in and think about one of these places and try to write down ten fun or useful things you can do there. For example at the post office, you can mail a letter or pick up your mail. At post offices which are truly good places, you can catch up on the community gossip, scan a bulletin board full of local happenings, and sit outside on a bench and open your mail. That makes it easy to chat with neighbors or just peoplewatch. If there is a coffee shop or vending cart nearby, you can even get a drink and sit and enjoy the passing scene. The Power of 10 is the simple but important idea that the more things there are to do in a place, the more beloved and central that place will become in your neighborhood.
6. Good places are inspired by the people who live there
The big question is, of course, how do you begin to create the good places that every neighborhood craves? What process can you use to build spots where people want to hang out? Long experience has shown us that bottom-up rather than top-down strategies to create or revitalize public spaces work best. This approach is based on the simple idea that the people who live in a neighborhood are the world’s experts on that particular place. Any project to improve things should be guided by the community’s wisdom, not the dictates of professional disciplines. This is the most important lesson about making great neighborhoods we have learned in 30 years of work.
What do you love best about New Canaan? Whether you moved here to get back to your roots, to raise a family, to take advantage of low taxes and great schools or just by accident—take a moment to appreciate the family-friendly lifestyle our village offers. While there is always room for improvement, in reviewing the six criteria mentioned above, I feel very lucky to live here. Don’t you?
For further information, read The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking by Jay Walljasper and the Project for Public Spaces.