The character and overall feel of a neighborhood and its streets are often what make it special and set it apart. The familiar appearance of its houses can signal the unique atmosphere of the community, not only to its own residents but also to citizens in the larger region. This area of the Elm Street Approach includes consideration of the features that are visible when walking or driving through the neighborhood.

Architecture is the most obvious aspect of design. The overall design and rhythm of a neighborhood includes not only consistency of architectural style but also general features, such as number of stories, roof style (hipped, gabled, etc.), and the prevalence of building features, such as porches or stoops, bay or dormer windows, and garages.

The importance of non-architectural design elements should not be underestimated. Property site plans have a fundamental impact on how a neighborhood feels and appears. The distance buildings are set back from the street, the inclusion of sidewalks or trails, the width of sideyards, the placement of garages at the rear of a property or the front, and the number of curb cuts along a street contribute to the way a property or street appears and functions.

Streetscape, including landscaping, also plays a role in a neighborhood's design. For example, planted median strips can make a street appear more 'green' while also creating a narrowed appearance that tends to slow down through-traffic. It is not uncommon for consistent site plans, landscaping, and mature street trees to unify a neighborhood even if the architectural styles are eclectic.

Neighborhoods where residents pay careful attention to design share some common features:

  • Well-maintained property, including structural building upkeep (i.e., front porches and roofs), painting, yard work, etc.
  • Sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and other relevant pedestrian/bike amenities.
  • Consistent scale, massing, and setback of buildings.
  • Compatible architecture from building to building and from block to block.

Design factors can be improved within a neighborhood by:

  • Streetscape improvement projects, including sidewalks/pedestrian amenities, lighting, and trees/landscaping.
  • Revolving loan funds for building rehabilitation.
  • Small matching grants for housing rehabilitation activities, such as painting, fa├žade improvements, roofing, and porch repair.
  • Providing guidelines for rehabilitation of the neighborhood's historic properties.
  • Screening vacant lots.