Neighborhood Schools that Work for Kids, Communities, and the Environment

Here are 11 key principles for measuring how well schools and school policies fit in with their communities.

Smart Growth expert Nathan Norris lists 11 key principles for measuring how well schools and school policies fit in with their communities. I really like them:

Restoration Preference: Will old schools be restored rather than replaced so long as the cost is less than a new school?

Holistic Planning Is school planning done in conjunction with land planning and transportation planning?

Community Buy-in: Is the school planning process designed in a way to secure meaningful community input?

Elimination of Design Constraints: Do you have the flexibility to design the school efficiently for the site and the community?

Neighborhood School: Is the school embedded into a walkable neighborhood so that most students can reach it safely without the necessity of a car or bus?

Prominent Site: Is the school sited in a prominent location (e.g., terminated vista or on top of a hill) so that it communicates the importance the school has in the culture of the community?

Shared Use: Is the school sited or designed so that it can share uses with the community such as a gym (or YMCA), park, ball fields, community meeting space, etc.?

Flexibility: Is the school designed so that it can grow or contract in size and services as the neighborhood grows or contracts so that it remains useful over a longer period of time?

Connected Learning Environment: Is the school connected to the local community through interaction with local businesses or through a community service program?

Community Pride in the Design: Is the school designed so that it generates community pride as measured by a Visual Preference Survey (VPS)?

Green building certification: Does the construction or renovation of the school follow best practices regarding energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor air quality, daylighting, light pollution and earth-friendly construction techniques?

For more of my blog posts, go here.

Kaid Benfield is director for sustainable communities and smart growth at The Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. He has his own blog on land development and community issues and enjoys contributing here, too, since there is so much common ground.


  1. I like these too, though the “neighborhood school” part is often a two-edged sword. I am, certainly, a huge proponent of walkability and walking to school, but at least here in Albany, calls for neighborhood-based K-8 schools are usually driven by isolationist/segregationist motives, rather than sustainability ones, and I tend to be reluctant to align myself with such groups.

    Anyone face similar issues? How do we reconcile the value of integration with the value of walkability in a still-segregated society?


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