Buildings and developments can support community by encouraging neighborly interaction, establishing a sense of place and safety, and fostering healthy living. Community extends beyond the best practices for site design and public spaces presented below. Sustainable affordable housing development involves neighbors and residents from planning through to maintenance and supports healthy living.

Public spaces for residents

Design public spaces that allow residents to build community by meeting their neighbors and feeling some ownership for more than just their house or apartment.

  • Large front porches and balconies, benches, playgrounds, community gardens, childcare facilities, and stores draw residents outside, add value to a development, and increase security. In urban areas, consider creating secure courtyards and playgrounds for residents only.
  • Inviting common spaces: lobbies, community centers, meeting rooms, fitness facilities, and even laundry areas give residents a chance to interact and build community.
  • Consider mixed-use development that integrates businesses into the site. Jobs, shopping, and entertainment close to home are invaluable and can appeal to neighbors while helping to finance the project and adding to municipal tax revenue.
  • Put kids, pedestrians, and bicyclists before cars. Wide paths and sidewalks with a buffer between them and the road encourage people to exercise and walk their neighborhood. Work with the municipality to install clear crosswalks and traffic-calming measures such as narrower vehicle lanes, speed bumps, and tree plantings along the road.
  • Build with the surrounding community. Involve neighbors in the planning process and be sensitive to their concerns and needs. Complement existing development patterns and create shared public spaces. Encourage neighborhood planning processes that can help clarify goals and provide flexibility.

Transportation options

Choose a site with good access to transit and, in the case of a suburban site, work with local officials to identify ride-share and park-and-ride opportunities for residents. Provide secure bicycle parking and add bike lanes or trails that connect to local bike routes. Consider working with a car sharing firm to provide another option for multifamily projects.

Set-up for security

Visibility is the key to security. If residents are out and about in their neighborhood and can see public spaces from their windows, the development will be much safer. Careful design of entrances and boundaries, as well as smart landscaping and vandalism deterrence, keep the site secure.

  • Keep outdoor areas and pathways within site of windows and balconies, and design hallways and stairwells with windows or openings onto common areas.
  • Maintain site lines outside by planting trees and low groundcover and installing lighting that covers pathways and adjacent areas.
  • Avoid large parking lots and mark visitor spaces.
  • Entrances should be conspicuous and well-maintained. At doors, use lighting or design features like awnings and lobbies to mediate between public and private.
  • Design spaces between buildings to facilitate public life so they do not create risks. Maintain a continuous façade on city streets and public mini-squares within developments.
  • Along exterior walls and fences, barbed shrubbery like holly and raspberry can deter break-ins. If ground-floor units are vulnerable, install bars so that residents can safely open their windows.
  • Deter vandalism with durable materials, good lighting, and immediate repairs. Secure the construction site and landscape in front of graffiti-attracting walls.


Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sample Neighborhood Plan: Project Next Step, The Enterprise Foundation.