On October 8, the American Planning Association (APA) announced its list of 30 “Great Places in America.” Launched in 2007, APA Great Places is a national program that highlights locations of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Each year sites are selected that embody a distinctive sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for the future. This year’s list is made up of neighborhoods, streets, and public spaces in 21 states and the District of Columbia, including New York and California.
Among the honored sites, Central Park was the only New York City destination to be represented, acknowledged as being “an exemplary public space that successfully maintains a large naturalistic landscape in the midst of one of the densest cities in the country,” according to an APA statement. Upstate, Syracuse was honored for its Greater University Hill area, which planners praised for its "memorable character" and role as an economic engine for central New York. (Last year, Harlem’s 125th Street and Brooklyn’s Park Slope district were honored, along with the Elmwood Village neighborhood in Buffalo.)
Elsewhere in the region, Philadelphia scored double honors: Society Hill was recognized for the area’s “blend of historic charm, smart mid-century and modern-day planning, and social diversity,” while South Broad Street was noted for its “historical character, focus on the arts, and social vibrancy.”
The Los Angeles area also fared well, with the Echo Park neighborhood, known for its hilly terrain that sets it apart from other Los Angeles neighborhoods, chosen as one of the APA’s best. According to the release, planners admired its “varied topography, historic architecture, and engaged citizens who, over the years, have gone to great lengths to protect and preserve their historic arts community.” Another nod was given to Santa Monica Beach, because of its opportunities for recreation and social interaction, as well as its “commitment to accessibility, environmental stewardship and historic preservation, and maintaining its distinctive character.” Much-lauded San Francisco was shut out of the Great Places list this year, but its North Beach neighborhood was honored in 2007.
The APA’s selection guidelines are defined by many criteria, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement, as well as other important factors such as geography, population, demographics, and setting, be it urban, suburban, or rural.