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Check out the US' great neighborhoods

Downtown Santa Ana
Source: Santa Ana

Of course, what makes a place "great" is subjective. The American Planning Association (APA) is out with its 2016 list of "great neighborhoods," chosen through an application process. The APA looks for communities that have undergone transformation.

A committee of professional planners reviewed thousands of submissions, taking into account various factors including: whether the neighborhood serves an economic driver, fosters a sense of community and preserves historic character.

Community engagement is also a factor in the selection process, as putting a development plan into action can take years.

"When we look at great places or plans that have made a difference, sometimes those plans may have existed for decades, and they may not have gone anywhere for a while due to lack of funds or the lack of cheerleaders, people who will take them and champion them in the community," said Carol Rhea, president of the APA.

The APA first launched the "Great Places in America" project in 2007 and has since recognized 260 neighborhoods, streets and public spaces around the country. Here are the "Great Neighborhoods" for 2016.

— By CNBC's Stephanie Dhue
Posted 2016 Oct. 3


Downtown Santa Ana — Santa Ana, Calif.

Outdoor events, like the Patchwork Show are a way to demonstrate community engagement.
Source: Lisandro Orozco

Santa Ana has a history as the heart of Orange County. The old courthouse was built in 1901 and helped the town flourish into a main economic and political center, but it fell into disrepair and was nearly torn down in the 1980s. More recent efforts to revitalize the city's downtown have paid off in what is now a hip neighborhood filled with restaurants, shops and artisans.

The city stands out with a unique blend of architecture that houses incubator and creative office space, live-work housing and art studios. The semiannual Patchwork Show was the brainchild of locals in 2008 who wanted to bring together crafters and the community. But the city is not without its challenges; the Civic Center building has been home to an increasing number of homeless people, prompting the City Council recently to label it "a public health crisis." The Civic Center is undergoing a 20-year improvement project and the council approved a plan to turn the abandoned bus terminal into a homeless services center.

Midtown Atlanta - Atlanta

Midtown Alliance partnered with a regional transit authority and a local arts institution to create a plaza in the arts district.
Source: Midtown Alliance

Midtown Atlanta is located between the city's downtown financial district to the south and Buckhead to the north. The Midtown Alliance, working with the city of Atlanta, in the late 1990s came up with a master plan that led to the largest rezoning effort in the city. Since 2000, there has been almost $5 billion of new private investment in this 1.2-square-mile area.

Once-blighted parking lots have been replaced with apartments, retail, hotels and office space. The area is known as Atlanta's "heart of the arts," for housing the Woodruff Arts Center, Fox Theatre, High Museum of Art, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Center for Puppetry Arts. Traffic is still a major issue for many in the area, as only about 3 percent of people who live in Midtown also work there.

Old Louisville — Louisville, Kentucky

Victorian mansions in Louisville, Kentucky.
Source: Old Louisville Neighborhood Council

Just north of the University of Louisville's main campus, Old Louisville is made up of about 48 city blocks featuring almost entirely Victorian architecture. The area was declared a historic preservation district in the 1970s, encompassing more than one thousand old homes.

Old Louisville began to change in the 1990s from a declining neighborhood with abandoned buildings and a large elderly population to one of college students and young professionals. The Victorian mansions host Halloween ghost tales and a Christmastime holiday home tours. The annual St. James Court Art Show helps fund ongoing grounds upkeep and beautification projects.

Nob Hill — Albuquerque, N.M.

A classic car show in Summer 2015 along Central Avenue in Nob Hill.
Source: Eric Williams, City of Albuquerque

Nob Hill gets its kicks, and its roots from Route 66. Central Avenue became part of Route 66 in 1937 as it passed through Albuquerque on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles. Some of the original neon store signs and art deco-style still grace the area, which is once again a busy stretch filled with local shops, restaurants and businesses. The car culture is celebrated in Nob Hill's annual Route 66 Summerfest through jazz music, swing dancing and barbecue. The area is known for unique shopping, although recently Nob Hill has seen several retail closures, including an antique store, clothing boutique and coffee shop.

Downtown Warren — Warren, R.I.

Families at the Schoolyard Market. Photo courtesy of Hope & Main.
Source: Hope & Main

Warren is a tiny neighborhood in the smallest town in the smallest county in the smallest state. Downtown is home to one of the nation's oldest working waterfronts. The historic district is voluntary and has many property owners dedicated to preservation. A bike trail, the East Bay Bike Path, runs through downtown, connecting Warren to Providence and Bristol. Planning has provided for the extension and improvement of the bike path and recreational facilities, such as Jamiel's Park, which was formerly a landfill and is now a community hub.

The town has sprouted farm-to-table restaurants, marine-related businesses and local shops. A local foods campaign started in 2010 led to the creation of Hope & Main, a food start-up and incubator space for new restaurants in the town.

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