The Everyday Neighborhood - A Canadian Case Study

Kyle Witiw

The Everyday Neighborhood - A Canadian Case Study
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is made up of over 400 neighborhoods organized into 15 districts. (Source: City of Edmonton)

This is part one of three in a series of articles in which I explore the concepts of neighborhoods and neighboring, and why they are critical to navigating parenthood based on my experience as a new parent. This article lays the foundation for the two that will follow by examining Emily Talen’s concept of the “everyday neighborhood” as reflected in my home city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

It’s said it takes a village to raise a child but what if you live in a city? How can you find a village in a place where the vast majority of people you come across are strangers? 

Being a dad has changed my perception of the spaces and places around me. My neighborhood is no longer just the place I live but the village where me and my partner are raising our child. For this reason, my nominee for 2023 urbanism book of the year is 2019’s Neighborhood by Emily Talen - yeah… I’m a bit slow to the party. 

Emily Talen is a Professor of Urbanism and director of the Urbanism Lab at the University of Chicago where her research focuses on urban design and the relationship between the built environment and social equity. Her latest book, Neighborhood, held my attention throughout in a way that hasn’t happened since Jeff Speck’s Walkable City did over ten years ago.

Now, I fully acknowledge some implicit bias is seeping in here. My post-secondary education took me through degrees in sociology and urban planning and these are the predominant lenses through which Talen explores the history, meaning, and roles of neighborhoods. However, the topic of neighborhoods is explored with such breadth and depth that there is very likely something for every urbanist in this book.

Central to Talen’s thesis in Neighborhood is the concept of the “everyday neighborhood” - a concept that elevates the neighborhood beyond simple lines on a map and seeks to make the neighborhood unit relevant and meaningful to everyday life in the 21st century. According to Talen, the everyday neighborhood uses its “physical form to enable human connection, exchange, and sense of belonging, which in turn provides the capacity to act collectively.”

I was particularly drawn to the eight qualities of everyday neighborhoods because I think they neatly (and maybe uniquely) sum up what is great about my home city of Edmonton; namely, its large, interconnected network of nearly 400(!!!) neighborhoods that offer a sense of identity, belonging, connectedness, and purpose to over 1 million people every single day.

Quality #1: It has a name

This quality needs little to no explanation but as Talen puts it, “naming a neighborhood raises awareness and fosters a sense of identity and ownership.” Naming is the foundation of Edmonton’s strong network of neighborhoods. The history of naming in Edmonton is sometimes confusing and increasingly contentious. Edmonton’s Naming Committee, made up of Council-appointed volunteers and guided by a recently modernized policy, makes decisions on the names of streets, parks, and neighborhoods in the city. 

Quality #2: Residents know where it is, what it is, and whether they belong to it

On the one hand, this quality is about tangible geography, location in space. On the other hand, it’s about recognizing your place within it. Notably, Talen highlights “there is a sense of belonging to the neighborhood, but there is no friendship or even familiarity prerequisites.” Anytime I meet a new person who lives here, one of the first questions I ask them is what neighborhood they live in. I’ve yet to hear “I don’t know” from anyone - no matter how long they’ve lived here. We even wear our neighborhoods on our shirts.

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