Great Places in NJ


Click Here to Download the Application Packet

Deadline for Nominations Extended to Friday, September 25, 2015.

Great Places 2015 Logo-01

Great Places in New Jersey, the flagship program of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-NJ), celebrates downtowns, streets, neighborhoods and public spaces of exemplary character, quality and planning. These places represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement and a vision for tomorrow. They help their communities enjoy relative prosperity and a good quality of life.

If your municipality has a great place, you deserve the recognition that comes with APA-NJ’s designation as a Great Place in New Jersey. So nominate it! Nominations received by Friday, September 25, 2015 will be considered for designation in 2015. The new Great Places and their communities will reap these benefits:

  • Opportunities for great media coverage.
  • A place on the Google Map of Great Places in New Jersey. The Google Map facilitates tourism by providing a slide show of photos, pertinent local web addresses, and driving directions. Viewers can access the Google Map through APA-NJ’s website at, and municipalities are welcome to provide web links on their own websites.
  • Use of APA-NJ’s Great Places logo in promotional materials.
  • Features in presentations by APA-NJ officials, on APA-NJ’s website, and in printed materials.
  • Presentation of a framed certificate by APA-NJ representatives at a local designation ceremony.
  • Local educational activities such as tours and presentations for APA members and the public.
  • Assistance with submitting a nomination under APA’s highly prestigious Great Places in America program.

What Makes a Great Place?

Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live. They are enjoyable, safe and desirable. They are places where people want to be — not only to visit, but to live and work every day. Not only do they build a sense of community, but Great Places also give their communities an economic boost by helping to attract and retain residents and businesses.

New Jersey’s great downtowns, streets, neighborhoods and public spaces are defined by many criteria, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community activity. Consider the following descriptions as the guiding principles upon which APA-NJ will base its review, rather than a checklist of mandated characteristics:

Great Downtown

A downtown is the historic business district of the community. It generally provides a variety of uses, which may include, but are not necessarily limited to, retail stores, offices, government buildings, theaters, housing developed through the reuse of old buildings, parking facilities, public spaces and other features that draw residents and visitors.

Characteristics of a Great Downtown include:

  1. Functions as the centerpiece in the everyday life of the community. Offers an array of places where people come to conduct business and meet their daily needs, as well as go shopping, meet friends and relax.
  2. Enjoys a reputation for excellence that reaches well beyond the community’s boundaries. Attracts visitors from a distance that reflects its physical size.  
  3. Possesses a tremendous vitality, with lots of people not just during the day but also in the evening and on the weekends.  
  4. Offers special events and attractions throughout the year.
  5. Provides accessible parking.
  6. Receives support from the community to attract, retain and grow businesses. Examples: “Buy Local” campaigns and façade improvement programs.
  7. Its streets, public spaces and constituent neighborhood (if applicable) satisfy the characteristics listed for those Great Place categories.  

Great Street

A street comprises the entire three-dimensional visual corridor, including how it relates to the adjacent development. Submissions should document the street’s character, form and function. Streets of different types are eligible, ranging from pedestrian to arterial roadways, but each should have definable characteristics. Special emphasis is placed on streets that service and take into account all users — whether auto, pedestrian, bicycle or transit riders.

Characteristics of a Great Street include:

  1. Balances the competing needs of the street — driving, transit, walking, cycling, servicing, parking, drop-offs, etc. with that of adjoining land uses.
  2. Capitalizes on natural features and the context in which it resides.
  3. Creates an atmosphere through the use of design and architectural features. Such features should reflect the local culture or history.
  4. Encourages social activity such as festivals, parades and open-air markets.
  5. Employs hardscape, landscape, street furniture or other physical elements to create ambiance and atmosphere.
  6. Promotes safety of pedestrians and vehicles and promotes use over the 24-hour day.
  7. Is well maintained, and capable of being maintained without excessive costs.
  8. Has a memorable character.
  9. To the extent feasible, promotes sustainability through minimizing runoff, reusing water, ensuring groundwater quality, minimizing heat islands and responding to climatic demands.

Great Neighborhood

A neighborhood is a geographic unit within the municipality that is typically bordered by significant physical features, either natural or man-made. Examples of such features include a major street, a rail line, a river or a large industrial complex. Residents share the use of public facilities such as schools and shopping areas that facilitate social interactions. The neighborhood may be known by a commonly recognized name. Neighborhoods within municipalities of different types are eligible for nomination: downtown, urban, suburban, exurban, town or small village.

Characteristics of a Great Neighborhood include:

  1. Has a memorable character that reflects the community’s overall character and local history but sets itself apart from other neighborhoods. Design and architectural features are visually interesting. Older neighborhoods have retained their historic charm.
  2. Has a variety of functional attributes that contribute to a resident’s day-to-day living (i.e. residential, commercial or mixed-uses).
  3. Accommodates all modes of transportation (i.e. pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers) and provides access to multiple destinations that serve its residents.
  4. Encourages social activity and creates a sense of community and neighborliness.
  5. Provides and maintains a safe, secure environment (e.g., traffic calming, neighborhood watch organization, Safe Routes to School program). 
  6. Promotes sustainability and responds to climatic demands.

Great Public Space

A public space may be a gathering spot or part of a neighborhood, downtown, special district, waterfront or other area within the public realm that helps promote social interaction and a sense of community. Examples include such spaces as plazas, town squares, parks, marketplaces, public commons and malls, public greens, piers, special areas within convention centers or grounds, sites within public buildings, concourses or public spaces within private buildings.

Characteristics of a Great Public Space include:

  1. Offers high quality attractions and amenities.
  2. Promotes social activity and creates a sense of community and neighborliness.
  3. Is safe, welcoming, and accommodating for all users. Encourages use and interaction among a diverse cross section of the public.
  4. Has a unique or special character that makes it extraordinary or memorable.
    1. Has design and architectural features that are visually interesting.
    2. Reflects the local culture or history.
    3. Relates well to surrounding areas and uses. Having a truly memorable view is a bonus.
  5. Is well maintained.

All Great Place Categories. A Great Place should reflect the outcome of good plans and planning, either in its original design and development or by preserving or even improving its character over time. In addition, a Great Place should contribute to the greater community’s social, economic, and environmental well-being for the long term. It should utilize suitable measures or practices to protect or enhance the local environment and respond to the growing threat of climate change.

Program Rules

Great Places of New Jersey is an initiative of APA-NJ. Nominations close on Monday, August 31, 2015.

All entrants grant to APA-NJ the right to use any and all information related to the competition, including information on nominations obtained through the competition, for marketing purposes or any other purpose, unless prohibited by law.

Officers, employees, consultants, and agents of municipalities in which nominations are located are not eligible to serve as judges.

APA-NJ reserves the right to limit the number of Great Place designations based on the quality of the nominations received.

The party submitting the nomination for each Great Place designated, by acceptance of the designation, agrees to release APA-NJ, its officers, employees, and agents from all liability, claims, or actions of any kind whatsoever for injuries, damages, or losses to persons and property which may be sustained in connection with the receipt, ownership, or use of the Great Place designation.

Nomination Format: Great Place in New Jersey

Take care to include all the information requested to make the best case for your nomination.

I. Overview

  • Nomination category – Great Street, Great Neighborhood, Great Public Space, or Great Downtown
  • Name and address of nominated place
  • Primary contact: name, title, phone number, e-mail address, mailing address
  • Municipal contact (optional): name, title, phone number, e-mail address, mailing address
  • Description of the place. Be sure to identify the responsible jurisdiction (city, county, etc.), physical size or dimensions, and any other salient characteristics.
    • For a street, identify the start and end points and the number of blocks. Describe the setting in which it is located.
    • For a neighborhood, identify when the neighborhood was first settled. Describe its location (i.e. urban, suburban, rural, etc.), boundaries, density (i.e. dwelling units per acre) or street layout and connectivity; demographic and social characteristics; functionality (i.e. residential, commercial, retail, etc.); the activities and facilities that support everyday life (e.g., housing, schools, stores, parks, green space, businesses, public or private facilities, transit). Describe the extent to which there is diversity among the residents, based upon economic, social, ethnic, and demographic factors.
    • For a public space, describe its location and setting (downtown, neighborhood waterfront, business or entertainment district, historic area, park) and the date (approximate) the space was created.
    • For a downtown, describe its location, boundaries, and the facilities, amenities and activities that support everyday life.

II. How the Nomination Addresses the Criteria

Identify what sets the nomination apart from other places. How does the place specifically address the criteria listed for What Makes a Great Place on pages 1through 4? What makes this place special and worthy of designation as a Great Place in New Jersey? Please limit this section to two pages for nominations under the Great Street, Neighborhood and Public Space categories, or three pages for Great Downtown nominations.

III. How the Place Became “Great”

Summarize the plans, processes, and resources that created the nominated place and provided for any subsequent improvements. If possible, list the specific public and private funding sources and amounts utilized and estimate the return on investment the municipality has received from its own outlays.

IV. Images and Mapping                                                                                                      

Submit these items as separate files:

  • A map showing the place’s location within the community.
  • High quality images that demonstrate the qualities or characteristics that you are trying to highlight in your narrative. Photos with people in them are preferred but not mandatory. We strongly prefer that you include at least six but no more than ten photos.

V. Supplemental Information (optional)

Think about what kind of information would best supplement your narrative and images. Examples include awards, special recognition by other organizations or entities, historic designations, etc.

Submit electronically to:
Deadline: Nominations must be received no later than Friday, September 25, 2015.

Click on the icons to visit Great Places designated since 2012!


Getting to Great

posted on November 3rd, 2014 in Great Places in NJ, News

“Getting to Great” is a video presentation developed by Professional Planners and sponsored by the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-NJ) to offer a perspective on how good planning can help New Jersey’s communities become more prosperous and desirable places. Watch the video and download the discussion guide to facilitate conversations around good planning.

People’s Choice Awards

posted on September 28th, 2014 in Great Places in NJ, News

With 11,421 online ballots cast between August 22-September 26, the People’s Choice Awards for Great Downtowns is officially closed and APA-NJ is pleased to announce the winners. Congratulations Hoboken, Downtown Red Bank, and Asbury Avenue, Ocean City!

2013 Great Places in New Jersey Designees

posted on September 29th, 2013 in Great Places in NJ

The American Planning Association-New Jersey Chapter announced New Jersey’s 3 Great Downtowns and 2 Great Public Spaces for 2013 through the organization’s program, Great Places in New Jersey

2012 Great Places in New Jersey Designees

posted on September 23rd, 2012 in Great Places in NJ, News

Launched this year, Great Places in New Jersey recognizes unique and exemplary streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces – three essential components of great communities. These places represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historic interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow.

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