A neighbourhood (Commonwealth English), or neighborhood (American English), is a geographically localised community within a larger city, town, suburb or rural area. Neighbourhoods are often social communities with considerable face-to-face interaction among members. "Researchers have not agreed on an exact definition. Neighbourhood is generally defined spatially as a specific geographic area and functionally as a set of social networks. Neighbourhood, then, are the spatial units in which face-to-face social interactions occur—the personal settings and situations where residents seek to realise common values, socialise youth, and maintain effective social control." The Old English word for "neighbourhood" was neahdæl.
In the words of the urban scholar Lewis Mumford, “Neighbourhoods, in some primitive, inchoate fashion exist wherever human beings congregate, in permanent family dwellings; and many of the functions of the city tend to be distributed naturally—that is, without any theoretical preoccupation or political direction—into neighbourhoods.”  Most of the earliest cities around the world as excavated by archaeologists have evidence for the presence of social neighbourhoods. Historical documents shed light on neighbourhood life in numerous historical preindustrial or nonwestern cities.
Neighbourhoods are typically generated by social interaction among people living near one another. In this sense they are local social units larger than households not directly under the control of city or state officials. In some preindustrial urban traditions, basic municipal functions such as protection, social regulation of births and marriages, cleaning and upkeep are handled informally by neighbourhoods and not by urban governments; this pattern is well documented for historical Islamic cities.
In addition to social neighbourhoods, most ancient and historical cities also had administrative districts used by officials for taxation, record-keeping, and social control. Administrative districts are typically larger than neighbourhoods and their boundaries may cut across neighbourhood divisions. In some cases, however, administrative districts coincided with neighbourhoods, leading to a high level of regulation of social life by officials. For example, in the T’ang period Chinese capital city Chang’an, neighbourhoods were districts and there were state officials who carefully controlled life and activity at the neighbourhood level.
Neighbourhoods in preindustrial cities often had some degree of social specialisation or differentiation. Ethnic neighbourhoods were important in many past cities and remain common in cities today. Economic specialists, including craft producers, merchants, and others, could be concentrated in neighbourhoods, and in societies with religious pluralism neighbourhoods were often specialised by religion. One factor contributing to neighbourhood distinctiveness and social cohesion in past cities was the role of rural to urban migration. This was a continual process in preindustrial cities, and migrants tended to move in with relatives and acquaintances from their rural past.
Neighbourhoods have several advantages as areas for policy analysis as well as an arena for social action:
- Neighbourhoods are common, and perhaps close to universal, since most people in urbanised areas would probably consider themselves to be living in one.
- Neighbourhoods are convenient, and always accessible, since you are already in your neighbourhood when you walk out your door.
- Successful neighbourhood action frequently requires little specialised technical skill, and often little or no money. Action may call for an investment of time, but material costs are often low.
- With neighbourhood action, compared to activity on larger scales, results are more likely to be visible and quickly forthcoming. The streets are cleaner; the crosswalk is painted; the trees are planted; the festival draws a crowd.
- Visible and swift results are indicators of success; and since success is reinforcing, the probability of subsequent neighbourhood action is increased.
- Because neighbourhood action usually involves others, such actions create or strengthen connections and relationships with other neighbours, leading in turn to a variety of potentially positive effects, often hard to predict.
- Over and above these community advantages, neighbourhood activity may simply be enjoyable and fun for those taking part; and can often tighten security for those partaking in neighbourhood watch communities.
But in addition to these benefits, considerable research indicates that strong and cohesive neighbourhoods and communities are linked—quite possibly causally linked—to decreases in crime, better outcomes for children, and improved physical and mental health. The social support that a strong neighbourhood may provide can serve as a buffer against various forms of adversity.
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In the mainland of the People's Republic of China, the term is generally used for the urban administrative division found immediately below the district level, although an intermediate, subdistrict level exists in some cities. They are also called streets (administrative terminology may vary from city to city). Neighbourhoods encompass 2,000 to 10,000 families. Within neighbourhoods, families are grouped into smaller residential units or quarters of 100 to 600 families and supervised by a residents' committee; these are subdivided into residents' small groups of fifteen to forty families. In most urban areas of China, neighbourhood, community, residential community, residential unit, '
residential quarter' have the same meaning: 社区 or 小区 or 居民区 or 居住区, and is the direct sublevel of a subdistrict (街道办事处), which is the direct sublevel of a district (区), which is the direct sublevel of a city (市). (See Administrative divisions of the People's Republic of China)
Neighbourhood (Turkish: Mahalle) in Turkey is an administrative unit within municipalities. It does have an official status but it is not granted governmental powers. Neighbourhood is administered by the Mukhtar and the Neighbourhood Seniors Council consisting of 4 members. Although elected by the neighbourhood residents, mukhtar merely act as an administrator of the district governor. Mukhtar can voice the neighbourhood issues to the municipal governments together with the Seniors Council. Mukhtar also has a seat at the City Assembly, an umbrella organisation for the coordination of the public institutions within the city. The mukhtar and the council members are elected by plurality at the local elections, but are not affiliated with the political parties. Neighbourhood administrators are compensated by the salary received from the Central Government and by the document issuing fees received from the residents.
The term has no general official or statistical purpose in the United Kingdom, but is often used by local boroughs for self-chosen sub-divisions of their area for the delivery of various services and functions, as for example in Kingston-upon-Thames or is used as an informal term to refer to a small area within a town or city. The label is commonly used to refer to organisations which relate to such a very local structure, such as neighbourhood policing or Neighbourhood watch schemes. In addition, government statistics for local areas are often referred to as neighbourhood statistics, although the data themselves are broken down usually into districts and wards for local purposes.
In Canada and the United States, neighbourhoods are often given official or semi-official status through neighborhood associations, neighborhood watches, or block watches. These may regulate such matters as lawn care and fence height, and they may provide such services as block parties, neighborhood parks, and community security. In some other places the equivalent organisation is the parish, though a parish may have several neighborhoods within it depending on the area.
In localities where neighborhoods do not have an official status, questions can arise as to where one neighborhood begins and another ends. Many cities use districts and wards as official divisions of the city, rather than traditional neighborhood boundaries.
- Schuck, Amie and Dennis Rosenbuam 2006 "Promoting Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods: What Research Tells Us about Intervention." The Aspen Institute.
- Harper, Douglas (July 28, 2013). "neighborhood (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
- Mumford, Lewis (1954). The Neighborhood and the Neighborhood Unit. Town Planning Review 24:256–270, p. 258.
- For example, Spence, Michael W. (1992) Tlailotlacan, a Zapotec Enclave in Teotihuacan. In Art, Ideology, and the City of Teotihuacan, edited by Janet C. Berlo, pp. 59–88. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. Stone, Elizabeth C. (1987) Nippur Neighbourhoods. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization vol. 44. Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago
- Some examples: Heng, Chye Kiang (1999) Cities of Aristocrats and Bureaucrats: The Development of Medieval Chinese Cityscapes. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu. Marcus, Abraham (1989) The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century. Columbia University Press, New York. Smail, Daniel Lord (2000). Imaginary Cartographies: Possession and Identity in Late Medieval Marseille. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
- Abu-Lughod, Janet L. (1987) The Islamic City: Historic Myth, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19:155–176.
- Dickinson, Robert E. (1961) The West European City: A Geographical Interpretation. Routledge & Paul, London, p. 529. See also: Jacobs, Jane (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House, New York, p. 117.
- Xiong, Victor Cunrui (2000) Sui-Tang Chang'an: A Study in the Urban History of Medieval China. Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
- Kemper, Robert V. (1977) Migration and Adaptation: Tzintzuntzan Peasants in Mexico City. Sage Publications, Beverly Hills. Greenshields, T. H. (1980) "Quarters" and Ethnicity. In The Changing Middle Eastern City, edited by G. H. Blake and R. I. Lawless, pp. 120–140. Croom Helm, London.
- Koçberber, Seyit (2007) Yeni Belediye Yasası ile Mahalle Yönetimi, Sayıştay Journal 56:103–114 (in Turkish)
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- Media related to Neighbourhoods at Wikimedia Commons