The term neighborhood has many meanings and uses. For example, neighborhood can be used to refer to the small group of houses in the immediate vicinity of one's house or to a larger area with similar housing types and market values.
Neighborhood is also used to describe an area surrounding a local institution patronized by residents, such as a church, school, or social agency. It can also be defined by a political ward or precinct. The concept of neighborhood includes both geographic (place-oriented) and social (people-oriented) components.
These many interpretations lead to a healthy debate on what boundaries are most useful in neighborhood planning efforts. Academically, every field has a different logic for their definition. Neighborhood associations and community groups offer their interpretations. City Planning departments often designate neighborhood boundaries along census tract boundaries. And, in fact, community residents quite frequently have a very different mental map of their neighborhood than the officially designated neighborhood areas used by planners and policymakers. All definitions are important and meaningful. The question is how one begins to create agreement over the definitions so that the debate focuses not on boundary definitions but on how to make positive changes in the neighborhoods.