Beyond the Neighborhood: Community at the Urban Scale

By James Thompson.

Published by The International Journal of the Constructed Environment

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Contemporary, commonplace understanding of ‘community’ in urban, American settings conflates the local, neighborhood scale with a normative ideal of urban life. This paper argues that the limitations of such a pairing have potentially detrimental effects for urban design and planning professionals concerned with social justice. A review of historically dominant notions of community within Western scholarship is followed by the construction of a framework for critiquing the current, prevailing conception of community. This framework borrows from critical theory, arguing that the very nature of contemporary urban life calls for a dissolution of certain false dichotomies that underpin the privileging of the urban neighborhood. Finally, the paper engages the 2005 Seattle Comprehensive Plan as an example of how the reification of the neighborhood has been uncritically adopted into urban planning practices. Rather than abandon the term ‘community’, I conclude by pointing to recent forms of social life and struggle that have the potential to lay the foundation for a 21st century understanding of ‘community’ by evading conflation with particular scales, locales, or practices.

Keywords: Community, Urban Planning, Theory

The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp.167-179. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 339.169KB).

James Thompson

Doctoral Student, Interdisciplinary PhD Program in the Built Environment, College of Built Environments, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

James is a student in the Interdisciplinary PhD Program in the Built Environment at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA. His current research and academic endeavors focus on ways to better incorporate critical thinking into professional architectural education. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Minnesota and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Colby College.