Leafy streets, courtesy of mature trees such as these, are one of the attractions of Berkeley's Northbrae neighborhood. Photo: Nancy Rubin

This week, the American Planning Association named Berkeley’s Northbrae neighborhood a Top 10 Great Neighborhood for 2011. In making its selection, the organization took into consideration views, unique features, engaged residents — and good planning, of course.

The ten winners — which included Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood and Birmingham, Alabama — exemplify, according to the APA, “exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value”:

Northbrae was singled out for its abundance of preserved views of the San Francisco Bay; garden suburb design with streets and footpaths that follow the contour of the hills and gracefully skirt outcroppings of magnificent volcanic rock; impressive public spaces and amenities; and engaged residents who have done much to restore and maintain the neighborhood.”

Developer Duncan McDuffie was the brains behind Northbrae. A conservationist who favored single-family houses on tree-lined streets in a park-like setting, his initial plans for the area were influenced by the local Chamber of Commerce’s proposal to move the state capitol to Berkeley. Stone pillars, streets named for California counties, and a majestic public circle with classical balustrade and fountain were all part of the package. Magnificent rocks and boulders were also part of the landscape’s attraction.

1600 Buena Avenue in Northbrae for sale at $699,000

Speaking about the area, Berkeley’s District 5 councilmember Laurie Capitelli said: “The Northbrae neighborhood is an amazing place to live. The vision developed in the early 20th century has transitioned beautifully into the 21st: small-scale shopping districts, restored creeks, walkable amenities – schools, library, parks – and a street plan that augments and preserves the natural beauty of the Berkeley Hills and views of the San Francisco Bay.”

Anyone who has Monterey Market, the Monterey Fish Market and Gioia Pizzeria on their doorstep already knows they are living in a pretty swell place.

For those considering moving in, they would want to know that houses get snapped up pretty quickly in Northbrae, for all the reasons cited above. Average prices come in comfortably under $500/sq foot, and the architecture ranges from the traditional wood-paneled Craftsman to Spanish-style 1920s bungalows. Three bedrooms is the norm, and a significant number of the area’s homes are on one level.

There are currently half a dozen homes for sale in Northbrae, including the 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom brown shingle at 928 Fresno Avenue ($995,000); the 1,400 sq ft traditional bungalow at 1600 Buena Avenue ($699,000); and the one-story Craftsman at 922 Modoc Street ($719,000).

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...