2007-01-05

Subdivisions vs. neighborhoods

A friend recently proclaimed to me, "I don't live in a subdivision. I live in a neighborhood." He says he doesn't like subdivisions, and he doesn't like for his neighborhood to be called a subdivision. I told him that his neighborhood probably was created as a subdivision, so first he said the history of its planning was probably different from today's new subdivisions, and then he tried to explain that the character of the neighborhood made it not a subdivision. Even if there was technically subdividing, he didn't feel that the term applies. I discussed this little debate with another friend, and he said it was just a matter of semantics because I was using subdivision as a technical term but people generally use it to describe a particular type of development.

I don't think it is just a matter of semantics. If the term "subdivision" is being used pejoratively or only to describe particular types of subdivision developments, then I think there is some sloppy thinking going on. The first friend does indeed live in a subdivision. I researched the history of the lot his home is built on, and it is part of something a deed in his chain of title called the Sunset Terrace Subdivision. It is part of a recorded subdivision plat, a feature of modern subdivision projects. The plat is labeled as the Sunset Terrace Development of the W. S. Holman Estate and dated May 1938. It is an area around Holman Avenue, and it was surveyed by J. W. Barnett (who was mentioned here).

So what would make my friend eschew the term subdivision? My second friend said he thinks of a subdivision as being a place in a suburban location and lacking a grid pattern of streets that connect it to central parts of town. Perhaps we should call this a suburban subdivision, but I would bet that Sunset Terrace felt like it was pretty far at the edge of town in the 1940s.

So what makes a "subdivision" a "neighborhood"? Let's make the question clear: What gives a residential neighborhood a sense of community and positive character? Should we compare Sunset Terrace to my subdivision, The Village at Jennings Mill, the epitome of the suburban subdivision? Out here we are quite isolated; in fact, we have a gate. There is nothing useful within walking distance. We even have the dreaded homeowners association that my first friend cited as a negative factor in his notion of a "subdivision." Some of the houses are often vacant because this neighborhood is attractive to buyers of second homes.

But do we "Village People" have a "neighborhood" after all? There were neighborly cookouts for a time in the past. When we moved here we already had connections to some of the neighbors, and we soon discovered more. (I've learned that two neighbors on my street have lived in my original hometown of Gray, Georgia.) Some neighbors greeted us, and we continue our neighborly relations with them, getting together to talk about the latest news and politics. We've been given cookies around the holidays and plants in the springtime.

It does seem a shame that many newer subdivisions in Athens don't connect well to the rest of town, but concerns over traffic and crime (some legitimate) have raised resistance to the idea of completing some roads that were originally planned to fully connect subdivisions, and the farther out development has spread the more it is separated from our central part of town by highways and rivers. Of course, the roads are only one part of my friends' concerns over what makes a good neighborhood.

What do you think? What gives a neighborhood a sense of community rather than the sterile feel of a brand new, cookie cutter, isolated subdivision in suburbia? Let's talk about the features rather than using confusing terms offhandedly.