November 27, 2004 2:37 PM   Subscribe

The Project for Public Spaces releases its list of the 20 best neighborhoods in North America. See Also: The World's Best and Worst Parks.
posted by deafmute (54 comments total)
Yeah, saw this on Archinect a few days ago, and as important an idea as it is to call out good public space, I pronounced it worthless there and then.

Not worth getting into here or now in detail, but on what criteria? whose definition of best? best for whom? No hint of the registers in which goodness was considered - this is merely a list of places "we think" are good. I even disagreed, radically, with their favorite international neighborhoods.

That they tried to acknowledge and defuse this ("There's nothing in this world more subjective than rating neighborhoods"; "brave the storm of reader reactions") does not prevent this from being pointlessly weak and arbitrary.
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:45 PM on November 27, 2004

I would just like to point out that my gorgeous neighborhood is number 6 on both lists. Like everything else in this damn city, it's criminally underrated and overlooked. It's really a fantastic area.

This is an interesting website, too. I think that a large, well-integrated public place is extremely important to the health of a successful urban neighborhood (or even a godforsaked suburban neighborhood). I wish more governments and city planners agreed with me.
posted by deafmute at 2:47 PM on November 27, 2004

Do you know for a fact that they don't? It seems to me that this has been orthodox, canonical thinking since Jane Jacobs - not that it's wrong.
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:50 PM on November 27, 2004

South Beach?

Are they fucking nuts? That's not a neighborhood, it's a theme park for underdressed glitter trash on Ecstasy.
posted by jonmc at 3:12 PM on November 27, 2004

Ahh, what a pleasure it is to see the neighbourhood where I spent most of my youth topping the list!
posted by antifreez_ at 3:19 PM on November 27, 2004

how can they talk about best communities and completely skip over boston...uh huh, talk to the hand. I'll take davis square over anything in florida....i mean seriously, FLORIDA?!!
posted by NGnerd at 3:20 PM on November 27, 2004

Oak Park!
Take that!
posted by Outlawyr at 3:28 PM on November 27, 2004

Rittenhouse Square? I don't think so. Homeless people, battered grass, a few expensive apartment buildings, and some chain stores.
posted by Peach at 3:37 PM on November 27, 2004

In order for this conversation to have any value, it might be helpful to call out our criteria for what makes a neighborhood "good."

These might be thinks like mixed use zoning, mixed-density development, mixed-income housing, moderately fast material and energetic throughput, demographic and/or psychographic diversity of population, good housing stock, good access to and from public transit, vistas, open green space, you name it...

...otherwise we're just giving shout-outs to the hood.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:49 PM on November 27, 2004

Before it loads, I'm thinking Kitsilano. Well, Granville Island is just a corner of Kits. But damn, if you tell everybody, it gets sleazy and cellphoned and Starbuckized like Robon Street, which used to be (early 60s) the best in Vancouver.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:53 PM on November 27, 2004

Robson St.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:56 PM on November 27, 2004

Isn't Kits already yuppified, cellphoned, and Starbuckized?
posted by sauril at 4:16 PM on November 27, 2004

Rittenhouse Square is great. It is small and while the grass seems to be frequently cordoned off for recovery, it is safe day or night and has a million places to sit, talk, and people-watch. On a warm summer evening, it's one of the best places to hang out in Philly.

One of the key things PPS looks for is a good connection to the surrounding neighborhood. Rittenhouse is bordered by relatively slow-moving two lane streets, which makes it more accessible than say, Logan Square. Even though there are stores and restaurants bordering two sides, I think this draws more people to the square. Look at Washington Square, it's pretty much dead after sundown, not so with Rittenhouse.
posted by Mercaptan at 4:18 PM on November 27, 2004

Wait a minute ... Federal Hill in Providence, RI is just a few blocks from here. It's run by the mob. They do a pretty good job with the Providence as a whole.

But I don't see what's so "16th best" about Federal Hill.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 4:24 PM on November 27, 2004

I mean, you still can't buy liquor on Sundays ...
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 4:24 PM on November 27, 2004

The Plateau in Montréal is heaven, was I ever disappointed visiting other lage cities that they weren't all like that, for a long time it was my conception of what big city neighbourhoods were supposed to be like.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:34 PM on November 27, 2004

fancy that. i was just in the lower garden district today looking for an apartment. glad to know someone else thinks it's a great neighborhood (certainly better than the supposed "up and coming" marigny).

also, THIS IS MY FIRST COMMENT. i've been waiting for at least four years to comment on mefi. thanks, matt.
posted by Igor XA at 4:47 PM on November 27, 2004

Um, unimpressed by the international list - it's massively touristy:
- Neal's Yard, Covent Garden - there're a lot nicer places around for people in the know...
- Miraflores, Lima - just international money, very slick, not the real Peru at all...
- Otavalo, Ecuador - cheesy market most visitors sensibly steer clear of...

I massively rate Georgetown in Malaysia though...
posted by runkelfinker at 4:48 PM on November 27, 2004

sauril: Kits is getting that way, but there's also a mentality there that resists Robsonization. Gotta visit 4th Ave or Gran. Isle to get Terra bread. West Broadway is cool, also Lonsdale, and Dundarave. Commercial getting iffy.
Neighbourhoods have a life-cycle just like restaurants and people. Always a good new one happening, and they're rarely upscale. Don't live in Van now, but my freezer's full of Terra.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:49 PM on November 27, 2004

I know others here are already tearing this list down for them daring to have an opinion but I found it useful for learning about global neighborhoods I'd like to know more about. The East village is definitely one of the best neighborhoods in the world. And North Beach in San Francisco is also an excellent choice as is Coyoacan in Mexico city
posted by vacapinta at 5:11 PM on November 27, 2004

Is it just me, or do the first four (or at least first three) pictures there under the PPS link look like they came from the same city? The first two, in particular, look like opposite sides of the same street.
posted by wanderingmind at 5:11 PM on November 27, 2004

Are these all "tourist" neighborhoods?
posted by u2604ab at 5:30 PM on November 27, 2004

I think this comment on the site says it all when it comes to their first choice:

"I've lived a few blocks away from Granville Island since 2000. I've never thought of it as a neighbourhood. It's more like an all-purpose destination -- incomparably more diverse than a mall, but not quite as vital as a real neighbourhood. After 6:00pm, everything shutters except for a couple of bars and the playhouses. Although, in the daytime, the place is indeed a gem."

And Granville island, along with all of Kits, is yuppie territory. I think a good neighbourhood should have a diverse populace, not a diverse group of people who are all able to work from home on their laptops.

Seems most of their choices tend towards touristy from what I can tell.
posted by Salmonberry at 5:31 PM on November 27, 2004

u2604ab: Federal Hill ... not so much a tourist neighborhood, no.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:35 PM on November 27, 2004

I miss the east village ... unemployed days sitting in Alt.Coffee on Ave A, playing chess for hours on end at the price of a single cup of coffee.

Good times.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:38 PM on November 27, 2004

South Beach?

Are they fucking nuts? That's not a neighborhood, it's a theme park for underdressed glitter trash on Ecstasy.
posted by jonmc at 3:12 PM PST on November 27

You're just mad they don't accept you.
posted by orange clock at 5:48 PM on November 27, 2004

just came back from a stroll on west broadway in kits and -- this thread! hello, vancouver people.
posted by ori at 6:00 PM on November 27, 2004

Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland rocks!
posted by leftcoastbob at 6:04 PM on November 27, 2004

Immediate reaction from everyone in the room: "Granville Island isn't a neighbourhood!" "Do people actually live there?" It is fun though, especially if you're shopping for a very yuppie dinner party.

I prefer Commercial Drive, but I'm biased towards the wacky tobaccky and the fantastic food. Not to mention the festivals they put on... the Parade of Lost Souls is one of the greatest ways to spend a Hallowe'en. Also: Chinatowns the world over aren't getting the attention they deserve.

Time to start linking my fellow vancouverites...
posted by mek at 6:13 PM on November 27, 2004

You're just mad they don't accept you.

I'm proud they don't accept me. I lived in Miami for two of the longest years of my life, and I can say without a scintilla of doubt that south beach is the antithesis of what I find desirable in a neighborhood. Loud nightclubs with shitty music. Celebrities infesting the place. Bad traffic. Overpriced tourist filled bars. The "beautiful people" out doing their insipid peacock walk. If that's the future they can keep it.
posted by jonmc at 6:27 PM on November 27, 2004

While it is nice that they compiled a list like this, their research is... lacking.
To find the 'best' international places is almost impossible, or can maybe only be done by someone who has put their life into traveling and finding these places.
Otherwise their criteria where based on either 1) places that they knew to be tourist destinations and were widely mentioned in travel books or 2) places they found in big cities that they either heard about, or saw on television.
For example, Moscow, Russia is obviously a #2, a big city, and the 'site' Arbat would be a #1, a major tourist destination.
having been there myself, however, its is definitely not a diamond in the rough (excuse the overused phase)
It is just a street where there are street vendors selling touristy things with no particular historic interest behind them. the only thing i came back with from Arbat were a few pairs of plastic earrings which were cheaper there than in the states.
On the other hand, Antigua, in Guatemala was far more beautiful and was named by the United Nations as a historic city, and truly is something unique.
So, no, i do not want to bash the site for their lack of culture... or what have you, i do think that it is nice they made a list, but there clearly isn't that much research behind it.

Igor XA - it's my first comment too. I've been so frusterated since the new users have not ebeen able to sign up, but YAY now i get to write stuff : )
posted by chatterbox at 6:40 PM on November 27, 2004

Granville Island is nice n' all (best market ever), but no one lives there (except for the houseboats) so how is it considered a neighborhood? (shout-out to the VanCity peeps)
posted by weezy at 7:03 PM on November 27, 2004

Isn't Kits already yuppified, cellphoned, and Starbuckized?

exactly what i thought when i saw granville top the list. i would counter that regarding moving somewhere, kits is not a very good neighborhood. my experience was that it expensive and insular (although i do miss 2 for 1 mondays at hollywood, and seasame fries @ the naam).

i've recently moved to the plateau (#7 on the list) and i find it so much more vibrant and livable, especially without a lot of money. the festivals and arts events happening here are astouding, and much more varied than i found in vancouver.

unfortunately consensus is that the plateau is slowly being encroached upon by mcgill students and anglos, pushing the french in the city farther east, and the artists north. if that's in fact true, it's a damn shame.
posted by too many notes at 7:21 PM on November 27, 2004

Granville island is nice is you have kids and wanna see puppet shows on Sunday afternoon, otherwise, it's really dry. Vancouver itself is a pretty city but vibrant and interesting it is not. Great for those that like to wear those pants that unzip into shorts and hiking boots out to dinner though.

As for Canadian cities, I would put Toronto's Little Italy / College Strip drag in there as well as Old Montreal. The former being lively and culturally diverse ( which Granville Island / Vancouver is not ) and the latter being architecturally beautiful and historically remarkable. Great restaurants, bars, galleries, good english / french mix, gorgeous living spaces...
posted by dawdle at 8:04 PM on November 27, 2004

Uh, hello...?

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:04 PM on November 27, 2004

I'll second their evaluation of Boston's City Hall Plaza. It may be the most hideous creation ever erected by man. The first time I saw it, I actually turned to a stranger and said "God, it's so ugly!"

(Perhaps that's just coming from San Francisco, which has a beautiful, if pompous, city hall)
posted by Bezbozhnik at 9:07 PM on November 27, 2004

I used to live just off of Sunset Beach in Van. Personally, I think the West End is better than Granville Island which is more of a marketplace than a neighborhood. The West End features great restaurants and coffee shops, beautiful houses and buildings, great views, Stanley Park and so much more. The Naam is fantastic! I miss that place. I miss Kits and Commercial. Hell, I even miss Gastown. I miss Vancouver. It's too bad that it's such an expensive city to live in.
posted by ashbury at 9:29 PM on November 27, 2004

Downtown Northfield, Minnesota?

The last time I checked, it was better known as "incentive to shop in Lakeville or Faribault." The poster there calls it racially diverse, but that's most likely because of the colleges. It's not economically diverse. There's a reason a segment of the community lobbied for the building of chain stores on the outskirts of town.
posted by Electric Elf at 9:31 PM on November 27, 2004

Vancouverites, I'll see you all a Kits and the West End and raise with Mount Pleasant. Walking distance to the city (to Granville Island, actually, and along the seawall, at that), the best used book store in the city (Pulp Fiction), fabulous views, excellent restaurants, Mario's Gelati at Quebec and Second, great cafes, the art school, little hole in the wall storefronts where the city's young clothing designers have set up shop, the oldest artist-run galleries in the city... But catch now it before the gentrification wave breaks over the neighbourhood. It's already starting, I know--art galleries opening everywhere, taking over the spaces formerly inhabited by the old time dance studio where you could learn the foxtrot and the shabby but delicious bookstore next to the Nice Cafe.

Also: Dundarave? I grew up there, and yeah, it's lovely, but it's one block of stores surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in Canada.

I always feel compelled to note that when I was a kid there it wasn't yet the richest municipality in Canada. We weren't wealthy. Honest.
posted by jokeefe at 10:03 PM on November 27, 2004

Seems most of their choices tend towards touristy from what I can tell.

Are they ever? They chose the sodding Royal Mile in Edinburgh. I mean, Edinburgh's not short of a nice neighbourhood or two. Why go for cobbledy-boozy MacThemeStreet? (Although they seem to have expanded the definition of the Royal Mile to include just about all of the Old Town, which is... pointless)

And yeah, Neal's Yard isn't the bestest bit of London, not by a long shot.
posted by flashboy at 10:05 PM on November 27, 2004

jonmc is spot on about South Beach. It's not a neighborhood, it's a glitzy flashy hopped-up tourist display district of neon-lighted acid-tripping socialites and wannabes and cash. If it's nice it's because the architecture is (despite everything else) genuinely interesting, people are too hung over to be mean, and nothing surprises anyone. Twenty-foot rainbow cow? Boring.
posted by casarkos at 10:05 PM on November 27, 2004

I loooove the East Village. I lived there when I had an internship in NYC in college. The Strand, how I miss you...
posted by SisterHavana at 10:06 PM on November 27, 2004

It seems they've never traveled past the coasts when it comes to rating parks. Well, at least I live somewhere where an urban planner around the turn of the century felt about parks the way Walgreens feels about its stores. The goal was to have a park within walking distance for anyone in the county, and it pretty much succeeded (assuming the county doesn't sell them off now).
posted by drezdn at 11:04 PM on November 27, 2004

The choice of Granville Island really says more about the panel that chose it than the area itself. It would seem that the PPS is composed of yuppies, insufferable artistes, and nine-year-old children of ex-hippies in roughly equal quantities.

That said, Granville Island is a fun place to go when you're a kid. I used to love going there. My yuppie mom and hippy grandmother would take me.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:44 AM on November 28, 2004

The choice of the East Village as one of the great neighborhoods is utterly strange -- it's barely a top 10 neighborhood in New York City.

* it is underserved by transit (particularly when you get out to Alphabet City)

* it is bedeviled by traffic -- Greenwich Village proper's narrow streets do a much better job of calming things down

* there's little in the way of parks, views, mainstream cultural amenities, etc.

* its retail mix is pathetic

* it is horribly family-unfriendly -- the schools are terrible and three bedroom apartments are non-existent except at the $7,500 a month price point in new rentals

* crime and disorder are far worse than any other allegedly nice neighborhood in the entire city -- some blocks the cops never cleaned up, and the rest of blocks are given over to throngs of frat boys until 3 a.m.
posted by MattD at 8:18 AM on November 28, 2004

Kensington Market? I've never understood what people see about living in that area. It's filled with garbage, reeks like fish, and it is so congested with people it's impossible to walk anywhere.

Give me High Park or the Danforth any day. Oh well, if they're not on this list, it's probably better that way. ;)
posted by purephase at 9:02 AM on November 28, 2004

The too-obvious, unresearched choices go for Portland as well. 23rd Avenue (not street as they would have it) has very little to recommend it besides the cutesy shops and overrated restaurants that infest a place during the decade after it gets "discovered" and starbuckified; it's almost like claiming Carnaby St is the heart of Swinging London -- maybe it was before it was imbalmed, yes. Head back east towards downtown it gets a lot better; it's the western extent the NE area, most of which rocks pretty hard by comparison. As far as better districts go there are N Mississippi, SW Belmont, Clinton St, Alberta and even Hawthorne (which has had the same treatment but manages to keep some real tone) all of which whale on it, and that's just off the top of my head.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:07 AM on November 28, 2004, make that "...the western extent of the NW area..." and change "SW Belmont" to SE. For some reason I'm totally turned around...
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2004

The choice of the East Village as one of the great neighborhoods is utterly strange

I'd argue that its lack of retail, parks and family-oriented friendliness makes it a great contender for best neighborhoods, though obviously not within the context of this list, which is clearly slanted towards the uglier side of Yuppie. But really, where else could they pick that's on the island (or better yet, why didn't they have the balls to pick a NYC spot in, say, Brooklyn)?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:13 AM on November 28, 2004

The total omission of Boston's neighborhoods is pretty astounding, especially given the touristy slant of the list. One of Harvard Square, Beacon Hill or the North End should unquestionably be there if they were only going with obvious choices, and there are easy arguments for Davis, Inman, Jamaica Plain and others before even digging hard. The only rational reason to exclude them is because of cost-of-living, but given that they picked the East Village and Rittenhouse Square that doesn't appear to be an issue.
posted by nev at 11:41 AM on November 28, 2004

There's got to be a better list out there somewhere...
posted by shoepal at 8:30 PM on November 28, 2004

They forgot Dundas Square in Toronto on their list of the worst squares and plazas. Seriously, this picture makes it look bad, but it's so much worse than any photo can convey.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:52 AM on November 29, 2004

Oh, and speak no evil of Kensington Market. It may stink of fish and be filled with garbage, but it's the best people-watching spot I know of, the shopping is fantastic, and the reason it's always so crowded in the summer is because it's such a great place to take advantage of what Toronto has to offer.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:57 AM on November 29, 2004

i was disappointed to see that neither mr. rogers' neighbourhood nor sesame street made the list.
posted by sharpener at 12:42 PM on November 29, 2004

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