3 Things That Make For A Great Neighborhood

Photo Credit: Max Touhey

What makes for a great neighborhood?

Why does everybody suddenly want to move downtown or to the Westside or to Brooklyn or wherever?

And can a developer turn an area into the “next great neighhorhood” as the folks at Hudson Yards (pic above) claim?

Neighborhoods have been a key part of my ethnographic work over the years. It’s also why I started doing my Weekends in America travel series.

Based on my work and my trips to all these different cities and neighborhoods, I am confident saying that what makes a “great neighborhood” is an extremely personal choice BUT always comes down to these 3 things:

  • The people i.e. what kind of people have chosen to live there, who are the small business owners, what kind of  tourists are attracted to the neighborhood, who comes to work or play there?
  • The mix i.e. how diverse is the neighborhood including age groups, professions, types of restaurants and bars, types of retail.? What’s the architecture like – is there a mix of old and new? Some people respond to an eclectic mix, some prefer things to be more consistent.
  • The energy: What’s the vibe?  I have a personal preference for lively neighborhoods, I know other people prefer a more mellow vibe.

Based on my experience with different neighborhoods, I’ve identified some companies that have a great instinct for coming in early and forging a great connection with the area. Prime examples include Sydell Group (Freehand Hotels), Jamestown (Ponce City Market), the Ace Hotels, La Colombe Coffee Roasters and Rick Caruso.

By the same token, I think Hudson Yards has its work cut out for it. Creating a great neighborhood is easier said than done. Especially in that neck of the woods which is so isolated and not particularly neighbhorly. The people I know whose offices are at Hudson Yards HATE being there (and granted the development is far from finished) but that’s certainly not a good sign.

For those of you who don’t follow real estate closely, Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in the United States. It spans 28 acres and 18 million square feet of office, retail, and residential space. It’s going to take another decade to complete.

I’ve been following its development since 2016 when I snagged a private tour.


Read on below for examples of some great neighborhoods from my travels.


I’ll start with my own neighborhood on the Lower East Side because I know it so well. I’ve lived here for almost 30 years.

  • My area of the LES is a bit ragtag, near the Bowery (what used to be called skid row), it’s more gussied up now but still has more edge than some people (including me at times) are comfortable with.


What makes it such a great neighborhood?

  • It’s always in transition.
  • There’s always something new to see and do which makes it cool for me.
  • There’s a great mix of ages, although it skews to the younger side. It’s a very diverse cultural hub – and it’s extremely high energy.

It’s also an especially social and friendly neighborhood:

  • On a daily basis I run into people from my building, people from Ludlow House – the place where I work 3 days a week, I have a daily meet-up with my favorite security guard at the still under-construction Ace Hotel (we discuss the latest happenings on the Citizen app). And at my gym (which I visit every day), I find the Chinese people (all on the older end of the spectrum), a total inspiration.
  • It feels like I live in a tiny, but super dense village. This is where I have found my tribe.

But I also have many favorite neighborhoods across the country (details in the links):


Detroit: Lafayette Park/ Mies Van Der Rohe Historic District

Detroit kicked off the Weekends in America travel series back in May 2015. As fantastic as it was then, I hear it’s even more interesting now, especially for design hounds like me. There are several new hotels that I would want to check out including the much touted Siren Hotel. The Lafayette Park area is also great for those who prefer Airbnb accommodations.


Philadelelphia:  Fishtown/Kensington


 Washington DC: Shaw neighborhood


Los Angeles:  Downtown LA

I love visiting here but not sure I would want to live in DTLA. On my upcoming trip, I’m checking out West Adams – all of my most trusted sources, are raving about it. Will report back.


Atlanta: Old Fourth Ward neighborhood


Des Moines: East Village


Pittsburgh: Shadyside/ East Liberty/ Lawrenceville



Bottom Line.

Knowing neighborhoods, who lives there, what kind of stores or restaurants or hotels have made their way there, helps you to understand people and cities. It also gives you very early indications of neighborhoods in transition and what’s becoming cool and trendy.

Although newly built mega developments may become great neighborhoods, I think I would miss the “mix.” Having everything come out just so, at the same time, doesn’t resonate with me but people do love living in those big high-rises all over Manhattan and Miami and Chicago and in downtown LA, so who am I to judge?

What are some of your favorite neighborhoods? What should be on my Weekends in America schedule for 2019?

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