The Neighborhood Unit as a Design Paradigm

  • Tridib Banerjee
  • William C. Baer
Part of the Environment, Development, and Public Policy: Environmental Policy and Planning book series (EDPE)


In this chapter we review the thinking about the neighborhood unit paradigm. Although it is seemingly an oft-told tale among environmental designers, we submit that their story of the neighborhood unit is incomplete, and that frequently they are ignorant of some important intellectual underpinnings of the concept that better explain its configuration. Rather than being a physical design created to accomplish some social ends arrived at de novo, the neighborhood unit is actually the three-dimensional expression of some underlying cultural and intellectual beliefs that pervaded American reformist thinking at the turn of the century. Moreover, it is also the most careful summation and delineation extant of more ad hoc design practices that have been carried on for thousands of years, for although the precise nature and purpose of the neighborhood unit well illustrates the American penchant for intellectual pragmatism, the roots of the paradigm can be traced back in history to the earliest civilizations. Furthermore, the concept of the neighborhood unit, in addition to nicely capturing some prevalent strains in American thought, has also captured the endorsement of most modern-day societies, for the concept is now employed throughout the world.


Residential Environment Growth Unit Physical Design Design Paradigm Neighborhood School 
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  1. 1.
    After the tradition represented by the plan of the ancient Greek city Miletus.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    It should be noted that, in this original formulation, shopping was not included in the heart of the neighborhood unit. Later, as the neighborhood unit concept began to be identified with the service area concept, neighborhood shopping was shown in the core, especially in some of the new town development concepts. The neighborhood unit model proposed by Clarence Stein showed this feature (see de Chiara and Koppelman, 1975, p. 265).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Settlement houses, as precursors of contemporary models of senior citizens’ centers, social service centers, missions, retirement homes, and so on, served similar welfare functions in the congested poor areas of the city, but with a much broader range of clientele and services. Typically, settlement houses provided various educational and recreational services for the entire community.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Dahir (1947) quoted the following statement from a Federal Housing Administration Bulletin entitled “Successful Subdivision” (Federal Housing Administration, 1941): “... planned neighborhoods are more profitable to developers, offer better security to investors, are more desirable to home owners, and create enduring and stable communities” (Dahir, p. 49).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The following account on the widespread usage of the concept is based on a work by Solow et al. (1969), commissioned earlier by the sponsors of our own study.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    As reported by Gary Hack of M.I.T.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tridib Banerjee
    • 1
  • William C. Baer
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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