By Stephen R. Miller
Political and legal tools have emerged since the 1970s, and especially in the last two decades, that provide political and legal power to neighborhoods. However, these tools are often used in an ad hoc fashion, and there has been scant analysis of how these tools might work together effectively. This Article asserts that those locations in cities that evoke a “sense of place” are created not just with architectural or landscape design, but by the operation of neighborhood legal tools as well. This Article argues that cities consciously overlay the panoply of emergent neighborhood legal tools as a means of place-building. This approach is referred to in the Article as creation of a de facto “legal neighborhood.” This approach does not call for secession of neighborhoods from cities or for the wholesale privatization of public functions, as have others that argue for neighborhood empowerment. Rather, the Article asserts that the collective operation of these neighborhood tools is greater than the sum of their parts, providing a method for civic engagement at a level city-wide politicians feel comfortable serving, in which residents feel comfortable participating, and which is proven to assist the kind of place-making that makes densely settled areas attractive. These features of the neighborhood make understanding legal neighborhoods a necessary component to any effort to address the built environment’s social, political, and especially its environmental effects, such as climate change. The Article provides approaches for linking the neighborhood to city and regional affairs, and a history and theory of the concept of the neighborhood as an argument for the important role and function of neighborhoods in American life.
Cite as: Stephen R. Miller, Legal Neighborhoods, 37 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 105 (2013).