When you have a young child, you interact with certain parts of culture that you wouldn’t otherwise, in my case I’m talking about a cartoon show geared towards toddlers. From time to time my toddler and I watch “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”, which is an extension of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, created to teach social and emotional intelligence to kids. As a planner through and through, while watching this with my toddler, I realized the land of “Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood” struck me as a pseudo urban utopia. One must suspend a few key aspects of reality, namely that the main character is a talking tiger with human friends, to really make this ‘land of make believe’ a possibility. However, here’s my analysis of the neighborhood in the show about what makes it an idealistic urban/suburban form with supporting services.
The residents of the neighborhood travel around on a vehicle they call “Trolley”, which is actually closer to a bus as it has no rails and no overhead wires, but it is a heritage-style vehicle similar to those in San Francisco. It is a beloved part of the neighborhood. Trolley provides on demand, point-to-point service based on voice activation. Think personal rapid transit with an artificial intelligence twist. Everyone has front-door service that provides a one-seat ride to their destination. Further, this transit exists in conjunction with in-home real-time updates. The town is pedestrian friendly and safe because there are no single occupant vehicles on the funfetti-patterned, winding roads. The only vehicles that we see regularly are Trolley, a postal worker (Mr. McFeeley) on his “Speedy Delivery” mail delivery bike, and even more rare is Mr. McFeeley’s mail delivery truck. Mode share is primarily skewed towards transit, followed by pedestrian trips. This is largely a product of the land use and urban form. The Vision Zero game is strong here. Low population aside, the streets are low volume, quiet, and safe. Imagine if actual cities prioritized transit, biking, walking, and wheeling.
The downtown core of the neighborhood has all of the necessary amenities and services (healthcare center, grocery store, restaurant, etc.) that you would need in a utopia. Each of these are low scale buildings that I assume as mixed use for housing of the business owners. There’s even farm just outside of the urban core for livestock as well as a continuous source of food in the enchanted garden that the community maintains. The housing type varies from a multifamily housing development in a tree, to a castle housing the neighborhood officials, to a modest beachfront hut (Daniel and Family). A school is just outside of the urban core of the neighborhood, but still connected to it with plenty of green space for the kids to play. The urban form is ripe with some of Kevin Lynch’s Five Elements: paths of the streets, edges seen in the separation of the urban core and residential surroundings, and nodes such as the clock factory. In many ways this neighborhood also resembles a garden city or suburb with its centralized enchanted garden, urban core nearby surrounded by a park and ring road, with houses and their respective lands just outside of the ring road, and open space and forests beyond.
Economy and Government
From what I’ve gathered, the chief exports are artisan clocks and crayons. Imports and exports seem to be handled by the mail man/postal worker. They focus on a “speedy delivery” model which magically transmits orders which shows up almost instantly after deciding an item is needed. There are no orders or paperwork to process your item. Think Amazon Prime mixed with Amazon Echo, but your package shows up right after you say you need, say a broom, out loud. One could make the connection that Grandpere Tiger, who lives on a boat, and is only in town from time to time could be the long distance shipper/exporter of these products. However as a whole, the neighborhood is largely a service economy with artisan and small manufacturing.
Jobs are varied and all provide services to one another. Occupations include librarian (X the Owl), government (King Friday), child care worker (teacher Harriet), factory owner and operator (Lady Elaine), music store owner and musician (Stan the music man), Family Doctor (Dr. Anna), Neighborhood Baker (Baker Aker), Tinkerer and clock maker (Dad Tiger), stay at home mom (Mom Tiger), dance teacher (Henrietta Pussycat), mail worker Mr. McFeeley. Also in order to make the royal family more accessible, Prince Tuesday, the older brother of Daniel’s playmate, holds a variety of odd jobs including a grocery shop worker, farm worker, child care assistant, and part time babysitter. The neighborhood is governed by a royal family, which would suggest a monarchy. However, it is democratic in leadership as evidenced by King Friday holding a vote on what new feature to add to the playground. Everyone, including every child using the playground, got to vote. The decision reflected the popular vote.
In the neighborhood, social capital is high, everyone supports one another and no visible money is exchanged. Everyone has a hand in parenting the children, it truly takes a village. All of the parents are on the same page when it comes to parenting style and they reinforce each other’s lessons. Demographically speaking, it is diverse in terms of race/ethnicity/species, and family type. There are single mothers, non-traditional family types. Where else would tigers, cats, owls, and humans live in harmony?
All of this is an important step for children across the country to see as a role model. Along with the emotional development lessons, the show is teaching a new generation to appreciate transit accessible, walkable, diverse communities where people know and support their neighbors. You can’t be what you can’t see. For adults and us in the planning community, it also gives a very strong vision of what safe streets look like, what neighborhoods can be, what access to food and transit really mean, how urban cores can support the people that live nearby. This doesn’t have to be as perfect as the show, but it also doesn’t have to stay in the realm of make believe.
Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users.