I have lived in Asheville, NC for nearly six years now and have come to appreciate aspects of great neighborhoods, urban design, and architecture. In taking urban geography classes I have learned much, but these thoughts are inspired by the book Suburban Nation by Dunay, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck.
1) A rough grid pattern of narrow streets with relatively small block sizes.
The grid pattern offers a variety of running and bicycling routes multiple ways to go from point A to point B by car. If a street is closed for construction or a fender bender, there are always other ways to go. This capability is lacking in many recently developed urban areas with a myriad of spurs off one main collector road. The spurs are generally residential and the main roads more commercial. The narrow streets slow drivers down and parked cars actually serve a purpose making the streets even narrower. Newly designed streets are so wide, higher speed limits are more practical. Plus, if there is nowhere to walk, there will be fewer pedestrians. Small block sizes coupled with smaller minimum developable lot sizes are more pedestrian friendly and allow a higher density of development. The minimum lot size in Asheville of 0.09 acres is actually smaller than many other cities.
2) To be pedestrian friendly, there must be somewhere worth walking.
I love citing this fact - I live near the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Haywood Road in West Asheville. The 1.9 mile strip of Haywood Road has in excess of 20 restaurants on it right now. That number fluctuates, but essentially we could eat out at a different restaurant every night for dinner for three weeks. There are also coffee shops (apparently the best in the state according to some, but with good coffee come a fierce attitude), auto shops, bike shops, banks, and all kinds of businesses. The restaurants just happen to be my favorite.
3) Architecture, aesthetics, and history matter.
Look at the individual buildings. Do you like them? I hope so, especially if you are looking where you live. Is there a particular style that you like? Why do like that style? Are there shapes that you gravitate towards? Like Alt-J, are triangles your favorite shape? I happen to favor Art Deco architecture and the bungalow. I actually liked these things before I bought my house and sought out a neighborhood with these aspects, a true luxury, certainly. (Of course, my father didn't exactly use the word luxurious when he saw the house that I bought in 2008.) There are buildings that are dilapidated and neglected, but try to imagine what they were like when they were new. That house clad in white steel siding with a hipped roof that isn't much to look at could be the original 1890s farmhouse, as it is in my neighborhood.
interesting tidbits from my geography classes and academic life