Our picks for the country’s top urban neighborhoods encourage the healthy, eco-conscious good life. These burgs boast community involvement; shopping, libraries and schools within a walkable area; public transportation; and locally owned businesses.
Some are more affordable than others, but most have mixed-income housing and relatively diverse populations. They encompass environmental and/or social programs; parks, green spaces and neighborhood gathering spaces; farmer’s markets and community gardens; and sometimes alternative-energy programs and green building practices.
1. Asheville, North Carolina
West Asheville neighborhood
Revitalized in the 1990s, West Asheville has affordable, renovated and fixer-upper bungalows and cottages plus a fashionable commercial district, tree-lined streets, historic architecture and a small-community feel.
• Array of locally owned businesses: bookstores, coffee houses, community centers and restaurants
• Two farmer’s markets, plus access to fresh, organic and locally produced food at a community food co-op
• Diverse mix of singles, young families and older residents
• Plans for a revamped problem intersection, including a medicinal herb garden, info kiosk, bike rack, benches, sculpture garden
2. Austin, Texas
South Congress neighborhood
Located near downtown Austin, South Congress (SoCo) has a lively commercial district full of retro shops, boutiques, neighborhood bars and coffee shops, mixed-use and mixed-priced housing, and outdoorsy orientation.
• Local markets and groceries; year-round organic farmer’s market
• Sustainable food center and organic community garden
• Affordable alternative-energy options, including big rebates for solar-panel installation and a green-power program
• Very walkable and cyclable; bus system on the city’s central line
3. Bozeman, Montana
Known for its friendly, laid-back Rocky Mountain atmosphere, Bozeman’s historic downtown features rows of restored redbrick storefronts filled with art galleries, boutiques, eateries, a cultural arts center and nearby parks.
• Two farmer’s markets and a food co-op
• More than 50 homegrown community programs that create collaborations between city government, grassroots groups, businesses, nonprofits, schools and churches
• 25-mile multi-use trail system called “Main Street to the Mountains”
• Growth plan that promotes high-density housing, urban infill, narrow streets, detached garages, front porches
• Refuge Sustainable Building Center that sells eco-building materials
• Open-space preservation along Bozeman Creek
4. Brooklyn, New York
Park Slope neighborhood
Resurgent Park Slope is only 4 miles from Manhattan and features charming Victorian brownstones, townhouses and apartments, a stimulating cultural scene and family-friendly ambiance.
• Nation’s largest member-owned and operated food co-op
• Five subway stops and a bus route
• Activist community projects: restoring bluestone sidewalks, hosting first citywide household hazardous-waste collection day, intensive recycling pilot program
• Recreational areas, a zoo, bandstand, ponds, a lagoon and picnic grounds in 526-acres Prospect Park. Nearby Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Botanic Garden free to the public at least two days per week
5. Chicago, Illinois
Located near Lake Michigan, Andersonville has strong Swedish roots, a unique commercial district, and well-preserved vintage walk-up flats and apartments.
• Revival of Clark Street’s locally owned cafés, antique shops, galleries, experimental theaters, bookstores and other shops
• Mix of people and cultures: many female business owners, Middle Eastern restaurants, thriving Hispanic commercial area
• Two community gardens; a dozen nearby parks
• Cheap rent compared with other area neighborhoods
6. Denver, Colorado
Near downtown Denver, Highland is an ethnically diverse neighborhood that blends restored Victorian-era homes with small mixed-use developments, new housing and a hip commercial area.
• Great community vibe with Art Walks and Third Thursday celebrations featuring live music and shopping specials
• Eclectic shops, fine dining
• Parks, community gardens, bike trails, farmer’s market
• Soon-to-be-completed pedestrian bridge over I-25 that will link Highland with downtown Denver
7. Indianapolis, Indiana
Fall Creek Place neighborhood
Once blighted, the inner-city neighborhood of Fall Creek Place boasts a mixed-income community with both restored and new single-family homes and an upcoming mixed-use retail center.
• Plenty of green space and parks, including a new greenway along Fall Creek
• Public infrastructure improvements: new sidewalks, street and alley resurfacing, historic lighting, tree planting
• Neighborhood programs: social events, community cleanups, crime-watch initiatives
• Housing affordable for low- and moderate-income homeowners
8. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Located on the east bank of the Mississippi River within walking distance of the University of Minnesota, Marcy-Holmes is home to two business districts with unique shops and restaurants, numerous eco-programs and public art displays.
• Lots of bike lanes and a pedestrian bridge (Stone Arch Bridge) that links to downtown Minneapolis
• Grants available for house/apartment rental rehabilitations
• 15 community gardens and several parks
• Neighborhood eco-programs: riverbank cleanups, tree planting, green roof program, rainwater recycling project
9. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mount Airy neighborhood
A Northwest neighborhood known for its racial diversity, Mount Airy has several thriving commercial districts with lots of mom-and-pop-style boutiques and eateries, architectural diversity and a strong community.
• Food co-op and farmer’s market
• Lots of green space with pocket parks, community garden and local arboretum
• Easy access to public transportation and to Philly Car Share, a citywide shared car service
• Lots of environmental organizations, including Friends of Philadelphia Parks, Mount Airy Greening Network and a community recycling program
10. Seattle, Washington
Located in northwest Seattle close to downtown, the Ballard neighborhood has a rich maritime history, Scandinavian roots, varied architecture and an energetic business district with nightlife, coffee shops, boutiques, wine bars and a lively music scene.
• Lots of trees, nearby parks, access to kayaking and sailing
• Roof with 18,000 low-water-use plants atop the Ballard Branch of the Seattle Public Library.
• Successful curbside recycling program
• High-density neighborhood: empty lots transformed into condos; run-down industrial sites razed and turned into homes
• Green, LEED-certified condos in Hjärta (“heart” in Swedish) building