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A Pocket Neighborhood Community Created by Architect Ross Chapin

Last night I attended a lovely event in Oak Cliff with two members of the board of Loving Garland Green, Anita and Robert Opel.  Mayor Doug Athas who also attended had invited us to this event to spend a delightful and informative evening with architect Ross Chapin at the Bishop Arts Theater Center in Oak Cliff.

Pocket neighborhoods are small clusters of houses, gathered around a shared area, that foster community and yet preserve privacy.   Pocket neighborhoods are proven successes and these areas are absolutely beautiful.  You can purchase Mr. Chapin’s book, Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World on Amazon.

Chapin is an internationally acclaimed architect, land planner and author from Whidbey Island, Washington. He has designed dozens of neighborhoods across the U.S. and Canada and has been a development partner on six pocket neighborhoods, several of which have received national housing awards.

His first pocket neighborhood design was developed on four lots (2/3 acre).  It has 8 cottages located on it.  Density issues are solved by design.  These pocket neighborhoods provide an amazing amount of privacy.  No one has their neighbors looking into their bedrooms for example.  All houses are designed to have a view of the commons.  Thus you can see when someone comes into your neighborhood as the commons are visible to all the homes.  In addition, all the houses have front porches.  These are semi-private areas of the homes that look out onto the commons and at the same time are layered with landscaping from the walkway around the commons to provide a sense of separation.

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For the past year members of Loving Garland Green have been exploring the viability as well as how to best go about introducing the concept of smaller homes grouped on larger lots with common outdoor spaces and a common neighborhood garden.  We call this concept “Microvillages

In addition, many of us have read about Mr. Chapin’s work and were excited for the opportunity to meet and chat with him regarding his highly successful experience at creating pocket neighborhoods.

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Pocket Neighborhoods have a long history.

While the concepts of pocket neighborhoods and micro-villages may seem like revolutionary new ideas of the 21st century, they are not.  In modern times this concept dates back to the late 1800’s when Ebenezer Howard published his book: To-Morrow:  A Peaceful Path to Real Reform and then built two garden cities in England.

Here in the USA we also have our own early versions of Pocket Neighborhoods with the establishment of Bowen Court in Pasadena California in 1909.  The court includes 23 bungalows arranged in an "L" shape and is one of the largest bungalow courts in southern California. Built from 1910 to 1912, Bowen Court is the oldest bungalow court in Pasadena. Arthur and Alfred Heineman designed the court and planned it around a Craftsman style courtyard. [Arthur was the inventor of the motel.  He opened the first one on December 12, 1925 in San Luis Obispo, California.]

The three main characteristics of these pocket neighborhoods include the following:

  1. Limited size – the homes are usually no larger than 1,000 square feet.
  2. Commons – much of the land within the neighborhood is a shared commons
  3. Parking is located on the perimeter of the neighborhood.  In order to get to one’s home they must walk a few feet though a commons area.

It’s amazing how much privacy and yet access to one’s neighbors that the design of these homes provides.  You can see from the photos in Chapin’s book that they are carefully positioned and designed to create the illusion of a much larger space.  One definitely does not get the feeling that the neighbors are on top of one another.  The feeling from these neighborhoods is more that of living in the middle of a large beautiful garden with best neighbors nearby.

Most of our homes now are designed to isolate us from our neighbors and even insulate us from them.  We drive into our garages, and walk into our homes.  Most of our backyards have six to eight foot high fences.  We can go weeks, even months without even seeing our neighbors.

However, all that is changing.  Pocket Neighborhoods are popping up all over – from Washington State to Carmel Indiana to Ardmore Oklahoma.

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Create Your Own Pocket Neighborhood Now

Increasing the neighborliness of your home and community:  In the final analysis change begins with you.

  • Plant a vegetable garden in your front yard.
  • Move your picnic table from your back yard to the front yard
  • Build and install a Little Free Library in your front yard http://littlefreelibrary.org/
  • Don’t replace your aging fence in the backyard.  Instead, use that money to enhance the existing landscaping.
  • Get active with the officials in your community and start work on establishing a pocket neighborhood code/cottage housing zoning ordinance for your city if it doesn’t already have one.  The building codes for most cities today need serious revisions to make way for neighborhood designs that serve the needs of more citizens.

Living in a pocket neighborhood is not for everyone.  However, it is becoming increasingly more attractive to a large segment of our aging population as well as to 80 million Echo Boomers who are the children of the Baby Boomers.  

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