Pocket Neighborhoods: Small-Scale Living in a Large-Scale World

From Whidbey Island, Washington, to Winnsboro, Texas, pocket neighborhoods are taking root in communities in search of a simpler, more shareable way of life. In a pocket neighborhood, houses with a smaller-than-normal footprint surround a shared green space. The more public areas of the homes -- living room, dining room, and kitchen -- face the commons, with the bedrooms situated away from public views. The design is both community-oriented and environmentally friendly.

At the forefront of the movement stands architect Ross Chapin. His Third Street Cottages project in Langley, Washington, features eight small cottages on two-thirds of an acre with the green commons as the hub. Chapin's tag line, "Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World" touches on the heart of the matter. Many people would love to keep the comraderie of community without forsaking the sanctity of single-family housing.

Chapin notes, "The people who live in these most sought-after communities know they share something extraordinarily valuable: a model of community that provides a missing link. They have their cherished privacy, but with something more: they get to know each other in a meaningful way, and are able to offer one another the kind of support system that family members across town, across state or across country cannot."

It's an old idea come back around, as this model of living truly dates back to ancient settlements. Anyone not living under a rock for the past few years can easily understand why smaller-scale living is a good thing on multiple levels. Chapin spells it out this way: "People are re-imagining how they live in their homes and in their communities. The American Dream of owning a single-family home with a garage seems to be fading fast. Demographics and family structures have changed significantly and we are living in a larger scale world than our grandparents – a world with vastly more stresses and pressures."

One of the myriad beauties of pocket neighborhoods lies in its scalability. A huge chunk of land is not needed to develop a community. They are also somewhat modular, able to be tacked on to one another as space provides. Chapin's website offers a number of different site plans, from a single cluster of homes to an entire neighborhood comprised of about a dozen pockets.

If it truly does take a village to raise a child -- or do just about anything else -- then we really ought to start building more villages. Pocket neighborhoods might be just the thing to get us going.

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