CLAYTON — The Riverwood neighborhood has earned statewide recognition as a “Great Neighborhood for Kids” in a “Great Places” competition, beating two neighborhoods in Charlotte, and others in Belmont and Jacksonville.
A panel of experts, including town planners, professors, and architects from across the state, chose six neighborhoods in the state as finalists in the “Great Places” competition. Then the competition was turned over to the public who cast their votes.
The awards are part of the second annual “Great Places in North Carolina” initiative, sponsored by the NC chapter of the American Planning Association. Emily Beddingfield, a town planner in Clayton, served as a co-chair for the Great Places initiative.
“[The experts] chose Riverwood as a finalist because of the walkability of the community,” said Beddingfield. “Also, it has events that are planned regularly, commercial areas are conveniently close, and a trail system throughout the development that connects to the Mountains-to-Sea trail.
When it’s a sunny, warm-weather day, children can be seen on scooters, skateboards, and bikes out in the neighborhood, and there are also families out walking with strollers. There are two schools in the neighborhood, Riverwood Middle School and Riverwood Elementary, and the majority of students who live in the neighborhood and attend the schools walk to school.
The neighborhood’s walkability and convenient locale to businesses is not only a bonus for families with kids, but also a benefit for senior residents, said Beddingfield.
“I think when you have a neighborhood that’s great for kids, you have a neighborhood that’s great for everyone,” Beddingfield said. “The parents benefit from being in a kid-friendly neighborhood because they’re socializing at different neighborhood events and being out in the community. Seniors in the community can take advantage of the walking areas and the nearby amenities.”
The neighborhood functions as a microcosm of a town, with a grocery store, urgent care center, ice cream shop, and schools. The only element of a town that’s missing is a local government.
The atmosphere of the neighborhood is reminiscent of earlier decades.
“It’s kind of a cry back to communities in the 1950s when people didn’t have cars where you had to be able to walk to the grocery or to the market to do daily errands or go to work,” Beddingfield said.
The local impact of the recognition could mean drawing in new residents. But there’s also a broader impact.
“It highlights the good qualities of a neighborhood like that,” said Beddingfield. The aspects that led to Riverwood being chosen are aspects that could be transposed to other areas.
What locals say
On a recent walk in the neighborhood one parent, Alyssa Gambrell, brought her two-year-old in to the local ice cream shop, Mimmzi’s, where owner Amy Beck greets her customers by name.
“I moved here because of the schools,” said Gambrell, who moved from the Lionsgate neighborhood. Though she works in Raleigh, Gambrell said the commute is worthwhile because of the quality of the community in Riverwood.
Beck said that her primary business at the shop is from children coming in after school. Now that the store opened up after being closed during the winter, she’s seeing all the familiar faces she missed for the past two months.
Beck, who owns the store with her husband, said the two have been at their Riverwood location for five years.
“I’ve seen kids have their first taste of ice cream here,” said Beck. “And I’ve seen moms come in with their first child, then a couple years later, they will come in with their second child and I’ve watched their families grow.”
There is a special wall for photos of children trying ice cream for the first time, with photos of the kids.
Near Mimmzi’s there is a board of social events, advertising upcoming events in the neighborhood, including a family bingo night, an Easter egg hunt and movies on the lawn.
“These are the sort of developments that we’ll see more of in the future and you can transpose those same elements of walkability and community into a lot of different areas,” Beddingfield said.