Columbia boasts 82 neighborhoods and more than 70 homeowners associations. Not every city block falls into these organized boundaries, and there is some overlap between the two. But there is one universal, says Bill Cantin, Neighborhood Communications Coordinator for Columbia’s Department of Community Development. Strong neighborhoods are the key to a healthy, thriving city.
“You need a citizenry that’s engaged with each other and with their community,” Cantin says. “Great neighborhoods build the character of where we live.”
As part of our annual Best of Columbia survey, we asked which neighborhoods readers like best. We then headed over to the Top 10 vote getters and asked Columbians who live in these neighborhoods what they think makes them so great. Common themes ran through many of their answers: good schools and infrastructure, evident pride of ownership, a sense of safety and security, and amenities that meet each family’s needs and tastes.
The one factor at the top of everyone’s list?
For a glimpse of 10 Columbia neighborhoods and the people who help make them great, read on.
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Columbia, Benton-Stephens has numerous “Most Notable Properties” designated by the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission. Rita Fleischmann and her husband, Peter Norgard, live in one of those properties and cherish the tangible connection their 1908 residence provides to the city’s early history. They are within easy walking distance of the University of Missouri, Stephens College and Columbia College, as well as Stephens Lake Park. The neighborhood is home to Access Arts, a community art outreach program, and Harbor, the Salvation Army’s shelter.
“We take pride in the fact that we’re a socially conscious neighborhood, actively working to preserve and revive its historical properties,” Norgard says. That vibe attracts a cross section of artists, professors, students and families from many backgrounds who share common concerns. The neighborhood boasts two community gardens. During the school year, Benton STEM Elementary School students collaborate, contributing lunch scraps for compost.
Fleischmann, who decorates the couple’s home brightly for every season, says she found a note in her mailbox one day from someone who had walked by the house every day for six months on the way to the bus stop. “How thankful I am that you brought me such joy as I went through a difficult time,” the note read.
“It was such a powerful reminder that you have to be nice to everybody because you never know what impact you’ll have. That’s the key to making a good neighborhood,” says Fleischmann, who moved to the area in 1987 for graduate school and never left. “I feel so lucky to be able to live here. It’s one of Columbia’s best-kept secrets.”
Norgard agrees. “We poured our hearts into the area, came to love what the neighborhood stood for,” he says. “We’re proud of this little piece of Columbia.”
“The week we moved in, a woman came walking across the yard with brownies. You hear about that happening, and it really did,” says Samantha Lingenfelter. She and her husband, Bill, and their three children moved to The Cascades from Maryland in late September 2014. “By Halloween, we had friends to walk around with while our kids trick-or-treated.”
After looking at several neighborhoods, the Lingenfelters chose The Cascades, drawn to its “country feel” while being so near the conveniences their growing family needs. The children especially enjoy its natural setting — a woodsy trail around the neighborhood’s perimeter with a wooden bridge they can cross. Nearly a quarter of the development has been reserved for green space and family-friendly amenities such as the zero-depth-entry pool, clubhouse and putting green all within easy walking distance from their home. There’s fishing on the 4-acre lake in summer and a corner park and playground.
“There’s a bus driver who knows all the children by name,” Lingenfelter says. “That’s just something you don’t expect anymore.”
Barbara Wheeler, a nearby neighbor who has lived in Midwestern and East Coast metropolitan areas agrees. “The Cascades has been a standout for its friendly and diverse mix of families,” she says. “It’s just a lovely place to live.”
The Village of Cherry Hill
“You get out of a neighborhood what you are willing to put into it,” says Gina Muzzy, who moved to Cherry Hill with her husband, Doug, and their three young children about 20 years ago. The Village of “Cherry Hill has always been a place that attracts people who want to know their neighbors.”
Designed in the late ’90s as a self-contained town, Cherry Hill offers a mix of single-family homes, condos and townhouses on walkable streets, and a charming town center that hosts one of Columbia’s three holiday Magic Trees. A neighborhood pool is a draw for community activities such as annual barbecues and socials.
Muzzy, who grew up in an old farmhouse in the country, says her house hunting two decades ago focused on the conveniences of new construction with the charms of an older home. She found that in the community’s mature trees, friendly front porches, and garages tucked out of sight in the back. Architectural detailing keeps a uniform, two-story streetscape on every home, even those with living space just on one level. Homes are intentionally built on smaller lots to keep that hometown feel.
A standout feature in recent years has been the development of the city trail system and addition of bike lanes along Scott Boulevard.
“Within minutes, we’re on the MKT Trail without the bother of loading our bikes on the car,” Muzzy says. “It’s just a great asset, especially in summer when we can ride out to the Katy Trail and down to Cooper’s Landing to enjoy the music.”
There is a timelessness about the Grasslands that beckoned architect Robbie Price home. After years away from Columbia, he and his wife, Ali Price, decided to trade Miami for mid-Missouri. In 2002, they moved to the Grasslands, two blocks from Price’s childhood home in the same neighborhood where his parents still live. “It’s a very welcoming, old-fashioned neighborhood,” Price says. “There was great joy in seeing my own children participate in the same activities I did as a child, and on the same streets.”
Originally owned by the Rollins family, the Grasslands was a plantation well outside the city limits. The land was eventually sold and subdivided, with the original farm home on Providence Road converted into the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.
Once beyond the far outskirts of town, the Grasslands now is prized for its proximity to downtown, the University of Missouri campus, Memorial Stadium and access to the MKT Trail. Noted for its mature trees and architecturally significant homes, the neighborhood has duplexes, fourplexes and apartments, too.
“That’s what makes a neighborhood great — not just a single profile, but the ability to have that dialogue with diverse groups of people of different ages and interests,” Price says.
It’s not unusual for successive generations to return, just as Price did, treasuring the familiarity and camaraderie of their close-knit neighborhood where everyone is welcome at an annual Easter potluck, July Fourth celebration and holiday party — “traditions that we all enjoy because they bring us together,” he says. Tailgating before and after Mizzou football games just steps away at the stadium dominates the fall calendar.
“It takes time and effort to make a neighborhood really viable,” Price says. “People really have to care about their community and value their neighbors.”
Old Southwest was at the top of Sara and Joe Haslag’s wish list when they started looking for a larger home eight years ago. But when the Realtor showed them The Highlands, it was love at first sight. The beautifully wooded neighborhood, lovely yards and tranquil landscape — including three small lakes — provide an idyllic setting they hadn’t realized existed in Columbia.
“It’s just so pretty here, everywhere you look,” Sara says. Fishing passes come with the homeowner’s agreement, and it’s common to see folks in their paddleboats or kayaks out on the water on warm summer nights. The neighborhood attracts a range of families, from retirees to those with children. The baseball diamond, soccer field and newly refurbished playground are seldom idle. People regularly take advantage of the neighborhood’s walking path. There’s a real community feel with a Fourth of July parade for children and their animals, an annual Christmas Open House and frequent gatherings with neighbors who live on the same block.
“It’s a neighborhood that’s set up to encourage you to converse and connect with others,” Sara says. “I’ve always thought that a neighborhood is all about your neighbors and the opportunity to get to know one another and serve one another — sort of like a big second family. That’s what The Highlands is like.”
Historic Old Southwest
A stroll along the leafy blocks of Historic Old Southwest is an escape to another era. Each unique home — many of architectural significance built in the early decades of the 20th century — sits beneath mature old-growth trees.
Richard and Camille Wolken, a retired Columbia optometrist and his wife, have a particularly intimate vantage point on the neighborhood’s history. They’ve lived here for 50 years, in the same home where they raised their eight children; now, they welcome their 17 grandchildren back for family reunions every third Fourth of July.
Nestled just to the west of downtown and the University of Missouri campus, abutting the MKT Trail, Historic Old Southwest “has always been a small town within a town,” Camille says, with neighbors always uniting to find common ground. Volunteers, for instance, have worked doggedly to revive the privately conserved John A. Stewart Park, removing invasive honeysuckle vines and planting new trees and shrubs.
Homes stay in families for years with little turnover; sales are often handled by word of mouth. Especially in the old days, “everybody always had a key to everybody else’s house,” Camille recalls. “We were always borrowing things back and forth and helping each other out. It’s just that kind of neighborhood.”
The couple has gone from being the youngest family on the block to the most senior, and, as such, they’ve orchestrated some of its most cherished traditions like the annual July Fourth parade — an event that has evolved from a way to keep their own children from getting bored on a hot summer holiday. The parade now draws children from throughout Historic Old Southwest and includes a Missouri Highway Patrol car and city fire truck (schedules permitting), a neighborhood viewing stand, prizes and popsicles for all.
In 2001, PGA professional and developer Gary Mitchell joined with fellow PGA professional and golf course developer Jeff Whitfield and landowner Billy Sapp to annex and convert a more than 600-acre horse farm east of town into a golf-centric community.
Fast forward to 2016, as construction is well underway on plans for more than 800 mixed residences that include everything from “a patio home for $200,000 to one-of-a-kind custom mansions for well over $1 million,” says Mike Huggans, lead development site seller with Re/Max Boone Realty. The heart of the community is an 18-hole championship golf course that’s home base for the Mizzou men’s and women’s golf teams, offering residents an exciting front-row seat on up-and-coming Southeastern Conference golfers.
Although golf unapologetically rules, the community has much more to offer and much more planned, including an extension of Columbia’s trail system and a quaint town center. The area attracts families who want a country estate feel and golfing lifestyle, as well as alumni and students’ parents looking for a comfortable home-away-from-home during Columbia visits. The clubhouse, with a full-service bar and grill, is already the active hub of this growing community, offering book clubs, wine-tasting and pairing events, and a full social event schedule that brings new neighbors together.
“It is a great community developed by someone who believes in bringing together good people and doing everything just right,” Huggans says.
Jeanne Clark must have looked at 35 houses or more in a whirlwind tour when her husband, Glen’s, job brought them and their two children to Columbia about eight years ago. An old hand at relocations, the Clarks had lived in all kinds of neighborhoods and had found some far from inviting.
“We were a little worried, but we have come to love this area the best of any place we’ve ever lived,” Clark says.
An experienced Realtor assured them the up-and-coming development was welcoming to new families. Her advice was on point. There’s an annual picnic at the pool house; cul-de-sac neighbors gather five or six times a year “so everyone feels connected and has a sense of who everybody is,” Clark says. Two fishing lakes, a walking path, access to the MKT Trail, a playground and tennis courts keep neighbors out and about throughout the development.
“We like its size — it’s like a miniature community in and of itself, and there was variation in housing pricing, so you would have a more diverse mix of people living together,” she says.
In the first years, Clark could look out her front windows and see cows grazing on the hills across the street. Even now, she can look out her living room windows and see the lights of downtown. “It still has the nostalgic feel of living out in the country where neighbors always took care of each other,” she says. “It just makes me happy.”
The best part of a neighborhood is its sense of community, Clark says. “No matter how pretty the yards or the streets, some of the most important factors of a good neighborhood aren’t immediately visible; they’re harder to see as you’re driving by, but they matter the most when you live there.”
Laurin and Jason Hanft moved to Vanderveen Crossing last May. Their house hunt began when they decided to move closer to the city, looking at newer neighborhoods in southwest Columbia.
“But the more we looked, the more we liked the north side,” Laurin says. “The convenience to the university and downtown is unbeatable. Once the couple started exploring Vanderveen and learned that it was adjacent to the city’s Bear Creek Trail, with a paved path directly out of the subdivision, their minds were made up.
“You can step right out your front door and be out on an incredible nature hike in minutes that takes you through beautiful, varied terrains,” she says. Bird-watching, an easy bike ride west to Cosmo Park, a dog park and playground, as well as a boardwalk perched along a stone outcropping above Bear Creek provide great access for nature loving families.
“We love to go out on the trail and see so many people out in our neighborhood, enjoying the beauty and being so welcoming and friendly,” she says. Holiday lighting contests, community garage sales, pool parties, Easter egg hunts and more bring people together. “We’ve been here less than a year, and we’ve already made great friends.”
Samantha and Jacob Adams love their West Ash home so much they are moving out — into a bigger home they’ve found just a few blocks away. What Samantha — a Columbia Public Schools teacher — and her husband, Jacob — vice principal at Jefferson City High School — love most about the West Ash neighborhood is its easy walking distance to downtown, the University of Missouri campus and the Columbia Public Library, and its biking distance to the Columbia Farmers Market’s summertime home. Since the time the couple were students at the University of Missouri, they were attracted to West Ash’s affordability and the personality of its older homes, especially the two- and three-bedroom brick bungalows.
“We loved the homes along Ash Street and concentrated our search along there before buying about 6½ years ago,” Samantha says. They loved the DIY work required to personalize their little gem, taking pride in upgrading and preserving a little piece of Columbia’s older neighborhoods. With a second baby on the way soon, the couple needed to look for a larger home. Worries about having to leave their favorite neighborhood evaporated when a charming white farmhouse with wraparound porch came up for sale.
“There was never any question: that’s the house we wanted. West Ash is our home,” Samantha says.
The first summer Michael Salanski spent as a Columbia resident, he fumed about his commute. “I’d get a little aggravated because I’d only have time to listen to one song, maybe two,” he says. “The commute was so short!”
Four years ago in June, Michael and his wife, Marisa, moved from Houston, wanting to be closer to family and friends.
“We wanted a place that had many of the amenities of a large city but still had the charms of a smaller town,” Michael says. “Columbia was it. Mizzou sports and the proximity to St. Louis and Kansas City were enticing, too. “We can dine out, catch a play, have an awesome evening and we’re just 10 minutes away from home … and there’s no traffic!”
The couple rented for about six months as they took time learning about different neighborhoods. Early on, they saw a home in Wyndham Ridge they loved, but they weren’t yet ready to commit. To their amazement and delight, when they were ready to buy and focused their search in and around Wyndham Hills, their dream home was still available.
“It’s been a great place for us. Most of our neighbors are younger professionals starting families who enjoy coming together for the better of the neighborhood. We want to be connected and look out for each other,” Michael says. A pool, clubhouse and more than 3 acres of common areas with walking trails provide lots of opportunities for crossing paths. A neighborhood welcome committee delivers care package to newcomers. Year-round events — such as a Mizzou tailgate party or a Halloween haunted house — bring everyone together, he adds. “It’s a great family neighborhood that is as friendly as it is inclusive.”
Looking for a block party speaker? The city of Columbia offers free tours and a speakers bureau for audiences of all ages. Speakers are available on topics ranging from energy efficiency to the arts. City staff members provide tours of city facilities, such as City Hall, the railroad, a fire station or the landfill. City boards and commissions also provide speakers on a variety of topics. To see all programs and tours available, or to schedule a tour or a speaker, visit www.gocolumbiamo.com/Public_Comm/Speakers_Bureau.
Affordable Housing Targets First-Time Buyers
With the entry point on new homes at the $165,000 range, affordable housing is an issue in Columbia. Young families, first-time buyers and working-class wage earners are particularly challenged when trying to enter the market.
Smaller existing homes can be a good fit. That means it’s increasingly important to preserve older neighborhoods and their housing stock, as well as continue to develop new affordable options, says Randall Cole, community development coordinator with the Columbia Department of Planning and Development.
The city is trying to address that need through innovative options. One such example is evident on a block of Lynn Street between Garth and McBaine avenues, where the city has purchased dilapidated homes beyond salvage and is replacing them with new homes meeting all energy-efficiency and universal design requirements. The program targets income-eligible first-time homebuyers who participate in a homebuyer-training program. Four homes are complete or under construction. Four new cottage-style homes will be built on the north side of the street under an innovative new land trust initiative, Cole says.
“The health of all properties and neighborhoods is vital to a community’s overall health,” he says.
A Statistical Slice Of Columbia’s Top 10 Neighborhoods
2015 Columbia Home Sales
Sold: 2,203 (+9.2%)
Median Sales Price: $176,850 (+4.5%)
Avg. DOM: 83 (-12.6%)
Benton-Stephens (Ward 3)
Sold: 9 (+50%)
Median Sales Price: $101,000 (+20.8%)
Avg. DOM: 60 (-32.6%)
Schools: Benton STEM (Note: lottery)/West/Hickman
Cascades (Ward 5)
Sold: 25 (+47%)
Median Sales Price: $285,000 (+1.4%)
Avg. DOM: 101 (-40.6%)
Schools: Rock Bridge/Gentry/Rock Bridge
The Village of Cherry Hill (Ward 4)
Sold: 5 (+25%)
Median Sales Price: $272,000 (+29.8%)
Avg. DOM: 172 (+52%)
Schools: Paxton Keeley/Jefferson/Rock Bridge
Grasslands (Ward 5)
Sold: 3 (-62.5%)
Median Sales Price: $385,700 (+25%)
Avg. DOM: 127 (+195%)
Old Hawthorne (Ward 6)
Households: 435 (1,200 in completed homes)
Sold: 47 (+23.7%)
Median Sales Price: $347,000 (-9.76%)
Avg. DOM: 121 (+3.4%)
Schools: Cedar Ridge (2018, new school in The Vineyards)/Oakland/Battle
Old Southwest (Ward 4)
Sold: 21 (-12.5%)
Median Sales Price: $246,500 (-17.3%)
Avg. DOM: 86 (+4.9%)
The Highlands (Ward 5)
Sold: 18 (-37.9%)
Median Sales Price: $212,875 (-27.5%)
Avg. DOM: 54 (-50.5%)
Schools: Mill Creek/Gentry/Rock Bridge
Thornbrook (Ward 5)
Sold: 35 (-7.9%)
Median Sales Price: $404,510 (+7.9%)
Avg. DOM: 193 (+54.4%)
Schools: Mill Creek (8/2016 Beulah Ralph)/Gentry/Rock Bridge
Vanderveen (Ward 2)
Sold 71 (-5.3%)
Median Sales Price: $186,500 (+13.7%)
Avg. DOM: 72 (-13.3%)
West Ash (Ward 1)
Sold: 77 (+6.9%)
Median Sales Price: $110,500 (+5.2%)
Avg. DOM: 51 (-21.5%)
Wyndham Ridge (Ward 5)
Households: 180 (200+ completed)
Sold: 37 (-15.9%)
Median Sales Price: $278,900 (+21.5%)
Avg. DOM: 101 (-9.8%)
Schools: Mill Creek (8/2016 Beulah Ralph)/Gentry/Rock Bridge
Sources: Columbia Department of Community Development, Bill Cantin, Neighborhood Communications Coordinator; Columbia Board of Realtors Multiple Listing Service; Brian Toohey, CEO, Columbia Board of Realtors; Re/Max Boone Realty, Sheri Radman; Columbia Public Schools, Michelle Baumstark, Community Relations Director