A big trend surrounding small living
Ross Chapin of Ross Chapin Architects coined the term “pocket neighborhood,” though the idea itself isn’t new. A pocket neighborhood is essentially a modern version of the bungalow courts that appeared in Pasadena, Calif., in the early 20th century. Chapin improved and expanded on that initial concept.
His award-winning firm gave rise to the trend of pocket neighborhoods with the Third Street Cottages in Langley, Wash. It’s a collection of eight detached cottages on four standard single-family lots, which would otherwise prove impossible without an innovative Cottage Housing Development zoning code.
As context, the code allows for up to double the density of detached homes in single-family zones, as long as the ground floor area is less than 700 square feet and the total area with the second floor is less than 975 square feet. Additional requirements on the orientation of the cottages and parking also apply.
These small concessions were enough to set off the development of pocket communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. What started with Chapin and the Third Street Cottages quickly grew into something more, and today, these small, comfortable neighborhoods are no longer such a novel concept.
Of course, while pocket neighborhoods are far more common than they once were, they’re still relatively niche. Not everyone is familiar with what a pocket neighborhood looks like, how they work, or their benefits for homeowners.
The Concept of Pocket Neighborhoods
In his book “Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small Scale Community in a Large Scale World,” Chapin frames the concept as a solution for healthy, livable communities. They’re an alternative for homebuyers who don’t like the idea of super-sized houses in a sea of development.
Instead, these homebuyers can enjoy a neighborhood where everyone knows one another. It’s easy to find a helping hand, form bonds, and make connections with neighbors. Children have a chance to meet kids their age, making friends they can visit whenever they’d like — everything is closer and cozier.
Pocket neighborhoods also represent the collective effort of progressive planners, pioneering developers, innovative architects, craftspeople, and gardeners. With coordination and cooperation, they shirked contemporary trends in housing to create something amazing and new, and they were ultimately successful.
The Value of Pocket Neighborhoods
While the suburbs have long been heralded as the American dream of community-building, pocket neighborhoods aim to avoid the trappings of two car garages, empty spaces, and enforced privacy that have become associated with many newly built neighborhoods.
This is the approach that has guided the development of pocket neighborhoods by the Cottage Advisors team, located in Massachusetts. Their cottage communities are built to offer “layered personal space,” allowing homeowners to interact in shared parks and amenities while always having the option to retreat to private decks. The fabric of community lies in a sense of shared ownership, and these developments create opportunities for neighbors to feel invested in something greater than their own properties.
Furthermore, many pocket neighborhoods feature environmental benefits. Today, many of these developments offer community gardens, shared parks, and other eco-friendly perks. The Aurora Pocket Neighborhood in Ithaca, N.Y., provides composting facilities, biomass boilers, and solar panels for homeowners. As green initiatives grow, communities built around ecological goals will only become more attractive.
A Place for Inclusive Living
Clearly, pocket neighborhoods have broad appeal for their unique arrangement. A diverse variety of people find them attractive for the close-knit community they provide. As an example, pocket neighborhoods can act as safe and permanent housing for adults with intellectual, developmental, and acquired disabilities.
In a recent Fine Homebuilding article, developer Mark Roth commented, “Few options exist today for adults with disabilities, or for their families. … Pocket neighborhoods are a great concept and already popular, especially among adults seeking greater energy efficiencies in their homes and more intimate community living and support systems.”
Naturally, shorter distances and stronger relationships are beneficial for people who desire a greater degree of attention. On that subject, the integration of complete perimeter walls can prevent people with mental disabilities who are prone to wander from endangering themselves.
The proposed community of Luna Azul will feature a central linear walkway that brings cohesion to the pocket neighborhood, helping with spatial clarity. This small yet significant design choice is vital for residents with autism, who may need more assistance with navigation.
In short, pocket communities are an opportunity to design and construct inclusive spaces for people who may have difficulties elsewhere. Architects and builders can pre-empt problems and offer the best living experience possible. That said, pocket neighborhoods have their share of issues as well.
The Problem with Pocket Neighborhoods
Many of the aspects that make pocket neighborhoods appealing also make them somewhat off-putting. It’s nice to have neighbors who are close by, but their constant presence may prove irritating in certain situations. Of course, it largely depends on the personality of the homeowner, much less the concept itself.
Regardless of personality type, privacy is still a valid concern. Similar to subdivisions in this respect, the proximity of the homes to each other may lead to conflict if the neighboring homeowners have different preferences when it comes to the volume of their music. The line between close and too close is thin.
Then again, homebuyers who want to pursue a pocket neighborhood lifestyle should know what it entails before they move forward with their final decision. In doing so, they’ll have an easier time acclimating to their new living situation with fewer issues overall.
A New Way to Build Community
What started with the Third Street Cottages has since stretched far beyond those four standard single-family lots. Pocket neighborhoods have gained traction as a concept, and this unconventional housing trend hasn’t shown any signs of slowing. As pocket neighborhoods appear across the country, it’s safe to speculate that the desire for close community living will only continue to grow — even as the communities themselves stay small.
Written by: Holly Welles
Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.