Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Achieving Thriving Neighborhoods in NYC

The first time I heard the word “neighborhood,” I was watching Mr. Rogers. He was my first urban planning teacher, making it clear that living in a place where people knew each other and got along was the place I wanted to be.

In a city like New York, each neighborhood has its own unique characteristics, but a common challenge across all neighborhoods is finding an affordable place to live. In fact, as many as half of New York City renters are cost-burdened or paying more than 30% of their income in rent and utilities. For these New Yorkers and others, living in a neighborhood that is safe, with well-performing schools, parks and other low- or no-cost recreational opportunities, and public transportation can seem out of reach.

That is one reason the Equality Indicators include the theme of Housing and, within that theme, look specifically at neighborhoods. Within the neighborhood topic, three indicators measure the different views New Yorkers have of their neighborhood. We look at how New Yorkers, based on their race or income, experience their neighborhoods as family friendly (a proxy for safety and quality), and whether they trust their neighbors. Across the past two years, what we found was:

  • Black, Asian, and Hispanic participants in our public survey were less likely than white participants to report that their neighborhood was a good place to raise a family.
  • Respondents from lower income groups reported lower levels of trust in their neighbors than those from higher income groups.
  • Respondents from higher income groups were more likely to describe their neighborhood as family friendly than those from lower income groups.

Reporting that where you live is not a good place to raise a family or that you are not able to trust your neighbors is far from the ideal captured by Mr. Rogers. Improving neighborhoods is one of the six strategic objectives of the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP). Individual neighborhood planning efforts are underway in all five boroughs where measures such as livability and resilience/sustainability help guide the direction of re-zoning efforts. Questions DCP may consider when planning include, “How is the neighborhood environment contributing to or detracting from social stability or equity?” or “How could a new transportation hub improve the economic growth of a particular community?”

Additionally, achieving neighborhoods where everyone thrives is part of the vision laid out by Mayor de Blasio in his OneNYC vision for growth.

“When New Yorkers describe where they live, they often name their neighborhood. For residents to succeed, neighborhoods require basic services, healthy environments, a good quality of life, and connections to the city’s job centers. As New York City’s population continues to grow, we will make strategic investments to bring necessary public-transit access, quality affordable housing, retail, and services to both growing and underserved neighborhoods.”