Neighborhood Squares

By Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard

Every urban neighborhood of 7 – 10,000 souls needs a place that functions as the “heart” of the neighborhood -- a neighborhood square. IMCL believes that now, more than ever, our society needs to strengthen the social networks that a square, more than any other urban form or social organization, has the ability to generate. A well designed neighborhood square generates community, counteracts loneliness, fosters inclusion, socializes children, catalyzes democratic engagement and sparks joy.

“A square is a structured invitation to all citizens to meet, make contacts and communicate with each other.”  Sven von Ungern-Sternberg

Proponents of the Modern movement ignored the need for social life in the community. They emphasized functionality based on an unlimited fossil fuel economy. Their values were based on rationality, the economics of the construction industry, and maximizing immediate return on investment. As a result, our cities have become auto-dependent “economic engines”, and our neighborhoods too often lack the social infrastructure needed to support community and well-being.

Today, many planners and urban designers agree that, for various reasons, we should no longer build vast tracts of suburban housing accessible only by car. And many people are now eager to move from suburban sprawl to a more walkable urban home where they can enjoy a greater sense of community. Urban designers and developers are increasingly responding to this call by creating mixed-use developments and walkable streets. But the most powerful tool for developing community - the neighborhood square (not park or “squark”) - has so far been rarely attempted.

This is not surprising. Neighborhood squares may well be the most difficult urban design challenge of all. To be successful, they require the collaboration of enlightened land use planners, transportation planners, architects, landscape architects, and developers as well as urban designers. They require a willingness to put short-term financial gain second to the long-term health and well-being of the community. They require not only refraining from building on a certain square footage of developable land, but also ensuring that the buildings framing the square are designed to optimize the square’s success. And this may require adjustments to a building’s height, uses, and architectural design

Over the next few weeks, we shall post blogs on:

8 Reasons why we need neighborhood squares
10 Design Guidelines for successful neighborhood squares

These blogs include some excerpts and adaptations from the book, Genius of the European Square, available on this website. 


Turn to Reasons why we need neighborhood squares, Part 1: For sheer pleasure