Neighborhood Boundaries for CPPs

Most city’s Citizen Participation Programs define the boundaries of neighborhood associations. This  Neighborhood Boundaries White Paper describes ow other cities mapped neighborhood boundaries and provide a framework to map neighborhood boundaries in New Orleans. See below and this pdf link for the neighborhood boundaries white paper.


Neighborhood Boundaries in New Orleans

Formalized Citizen Participation is on the horizon in New Orleans. After years of work by dedicated community members to design a feasible participation model for our city, and numerous calls from inside City Hall to design and implement such a plan, the process has recently been set in to motion with both City Planning Commission and the Neighborhood Engagement Office holding public meetings on civic engagement. While neither of these entities have announced their plans for an external civic engagement structure, there is at least one major issue that needs to be addressed before the city of New Orleans can enjoy the “organized system for neighborhood participation” called for in the November 2008 City Charter amendment. Before a well-planned system for communication and collaboration with and between neighborhoods can be established, the city needs a good understanding of how the neighborhoods themselves are organized. This will be accomplished beginning with the process of examining and redefining neighborhood boundaries in New Orleans. Clear neighborhood boundaries will:

  • Provide a better understanding of the distinctive character of each neighborhood
  • Ensure that all impacted neighborhoods are brought to the table as stakeholders in decisions regarding both private and public sector proposals and developments
  • Help to avoid misunderstandings and misrepresentations when the City gathers community and resident input
  • Aid in equitable allocation of state and federal resources
  • Provide additional clarity in future city and regional planning projects

The current boundaries for New Orleans’ neighborhoods are based on designations made by City Planning Commission in 1980. According to Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, City Planning defined sixty-eight unique neighborhoods in Orleans Parish at this time[1]. City Planning created additional neighborhood boundaries to match the census tract boundaries in the 1990s and 2000s, bringing the total number to around seventy-two. However, City Planning does not currently observe official neighborhood boundaries in their work, and instead uses the 13 planning district boundaries to partition the city.

While the planning district boundaries may make sense as divisions from a top down perspective, they hold very little significance or relevance to the communities they are meant to specify. There are nearly a hundred names used in this city to refer to the geographic communities that for many are the center of life in New Orleans. Thirteen districts, each encompassing large areas of the city with anywhere from 6 to 12 defined neighborhoods mapped in each one, are not adequate for understanding the unique assets and needs of the many geographically-based communities that compose our city.  Neighborhoods are the foundation of the city, providing the setting for the daily lives of New Orleans residents as well as a geographic basis and community of people through which they can define their relationships in the city. Neighborhoods, because of their smaller size and close proximity, provide space for community to grow. As such, it is important to acknowledge the individual character each neighborhood unit in order to provide each with the appropriate support.

While it is hard to imagine New Orleans without neighborhoods, the idea of a neighborhood is much newer than our city.  In 1929, planner Clarence Perry publicized his principles of neighborhood theory which outlined the ideal parameters for a creating a neighborhood that fostered community support and minimized crime[2]. These principles, which quickly became the standard in modern urban planning, assert that neighborhood units should revolve around the elementary school and other community use facilities, that major traffic arteries should not pass through neighborhoods, but provide boundaries for them, and shopping centers should be located near major roads, at edges of neighborhoods. These parameters were intended for use in planning future neighborhoods; however they can also be helpful in redefining existing neighborhood space. Perry’s ideas were expanded upon by the Planning Advisory Service in their Neighborhood Boundaries report, containing recommendations to planners for the process of defining or redefining neighborhood boundaries.


Elements that Can Be Used in Mapping Neighborhood Boundaries

Perhaps the most obvious of these recommendations is the use of Physical Boundaries such as rivers, railroads, major highways or other elements, natural and manmade, that obstruct the flow of human traffic. However, in order to establish and maintain its identity in this way, a neighborhood must be surrounded by significant physical elements that are no likely to change, such as ravines or waterways. The rerouting of major transportation arteries that is often a part of urban development can compromise the identity of neighborhoods recognized in this way.  One example of this in New Orleans is the negative effects of the I-10 overpass on the Treme neighborhood corridor.

The use of Major Roadways as neighborhood boundaries is a best practice because keeping main traffic arteries on the margins of neighborhood directs the flow of traffic around the neighborhood, promoting the quieter, close-knit community outlined in Perry’s theory of neighborhoods. Additionally, multiple neighborhoods can share access to commercial corridors if they serve as boundaries for multiple areas. However, when commercial strips exist on both sides of the street, it makes sense to draw the boundary from the back of these establishments, rather than the middle of the street, so as not to include the commercial establishments in the neighborhood. Because they are used frequently, major roadways likely already play a key role in the way residents define their own neighborhoods.

The unique elements of an area are crucial to the way it is defined by the people who call it home. Religious institutions and cultural establishments often become the Focal Point for a neighborhood, especially in areas with a high concentration of one ethnic group or cultural identity. Schools, parks, churches and community facilities are often major focal points of a neighborhood.

Another method of delineation used often is existing Statistical Boundaries. These boundaries include census tracts and political boundaries. One advantage of this method is that the areas drawn for statistical or political purposes are often uniform in population size. Additionally, large amount of comparable data already exist for these areas. Finally, many of the lines drawn for these boundaries follow major roadways and other physical elements that are accepted by the community as neighborhood boundaries. However, these boundaries can also be problematic. While these areas are often uniform in population size, they tend to vary greatly in land area. Additionally, statistical boundaries are not often updated and so can fail to take into consideration major changes that can affect the identity of one or more neighborhoods. Statistical boundaries do not take into account the key cultural or physical elements of an area.

While all of these strategies are useful, none by itself is sufficient to properly define neighborhood boundaries. In fact, the most important element to the boundary drafting process is given too little attention in the American Society of Planning Officials. That is the use of democratic and inclusive methods to reach consensus on the accepted neighborhood definitions. Planners must strive to avoid creating boundaries that are perceived as inaccurate or unrealistic by residents and thus are not commonly recognized. One way to do this is to draw lines based on those already established by Neighborhood Associations and by surveying residents. Capitalizing on the existence of these groups has the added advantage of opening communication with recognized groups of residents who will participate in and add localized insight to the planning process.

The following cities have been repeatedly recognized for their participatory approaches to the definition of neighborhood boundaries.

Minneapolis, MN:  The planning commission makes neighborhood boundary changes at the request of a specific neighborhood based on criteria agreed up in 1987 with the inception of the City’s neighborhood participation plan. The original boundaries were established through a collaboration of Minneapolis Community Development Agency and city residents. Criteria considered in a proposed boundary change include a stipulation that all impacted neighborhoods must agree to a change in writing, a requirement that neighborhood organizations notify those within the affected areas and give a public opportunity to receive their comments and a stipulation that the “cultural and political history of the existing neighborhood which helped to shape its identity” be respected.[3]

Portland, OR:  Neighborhoods determine their own boundaries, often defining them in neighborhood association bylaws, and then apply for recognition through Office of Neighborhood Involvement. While the 1987 citizen participation guidelines discourage recognition of neighborhoods with overlapping boundaries, they may be accepted if both affected neighborhoods agree to the overlap in writing. Any boundary disputes that arise are resolved at the District Council level through the use of the neighborhood mediation center and surveys of area residents. [4] The Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement encourages residents to take in active role in the boundary definition process through its website which includes steps outlining the process of adjusting neighborhood boundaries, as well as maps, links to other planning resources and numbers to call for help with the process.[5]

Birmingham, AL: The Citizen Participation Program in this city is especially remarkable because it arose out of a turbulent and somewhat hostile social climate. One key factor in repairing rifts illuminated during the Civil Rights movement and establishing a trusting relationship between the City and the community was the process of defining neighborhood boundaries. Early on in the process, the city conducted a door-to-door survey of every household within the city limits to establish a general consensus of neighborhood boundaries based on residents’ conceptions.[6] According to resident Charles Lewis, known locally as Mr. Citizen Participation, “When the program began, feeling by some citizens’ groups for city officials included misunderstanding, antagonism, and distrust. When the new map was prepared which…changed the boundaries in accordance with citizens’ recommendations, an important step was taken in establishing a trust relationship and two-way communication between citizens and city officials.”[7]

Key participants in the Birmingham Citizen Participation, including a current council member, former mayor, two neighborhood presidents and a leader from the business community visited New Orleans in April 2011 to give recommendations for making a successful participation program like theirs a reality in New Orleans. While their guidance varied based on their personal stake in the Birmingham CPP, they were unanimous that clearly defined neighborhood boundaries are the best starting point. Through a democratic and inclusive process to define neighborhood boundaries, a collaborative relationship, built on trust and respect, can be established between neighborhoods and with City Hall. These relationships will be essential to the success of any citizen participation structure.

In New Orleans, the next step towards a successful Citizen Participation Program is to begin the process of defining clear and commonly accepted neighborhood boundaries. The task may seem overwhelming; however, New Orleans is already a city of strong neighborhoods. Using the most recent community maps (such as those created during the UNOP process), current boundaries as definied by neighborhood associations, and residents’ own commonly accepted definitions of neighborhoods as the basis for officially defined boundaries will ensure a widely accepted and easily implemented boundary map. Using some combination of the APA recommended strategies to integrate these existing impressions can help to create a boundary map that is useful to the City, the business community and most of all, the neighborhoods themselves. A thorough and inclusive definition process, and the map this process will produce, will help to give perspectives on each unique neighborhood in New Orleans, aid in the fair division of state and federal resources to neighborhoods, and ensure that all affected neighborhoods are included as stakeholders in new city developments, while the City will benefit from reduced misunderstandings and misrepresentations when gathering citizen input.


[2] American Society of Planning Officials, Information Report No. 141, 1960

[4] Case study on Citizen Participation in Portland:

[5] Guidelines for Neighborhood Associations, District Coalitions, Neighborhood Business Associations,

Communities Beyond Boundaries, Alternative Service Delivery Structures and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement:

[6] Rebirth of Urban Demoncracy Berry, Portney, and Thomson 1993

[7] A Case Study of Birmingham’s Citizen Participation Program:


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