Not Just Cute Cottages

A Pocket Neighborhood in an urban setting: Swan’s Market by Pyatok Architects, photo by Ken Gutmaker

Pocket Neighborhoods have received quite a bit of press since Ross Chapin Architects and The Cottage Company began building their communities in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s. These intimate neighborhoods feature groupings of detached cottages and small homes clustered around garden courtyards. As you will read in the book, however, pocket neighborhoods are not just about cute cottages around a courtyard.

In essence, pocket neighborhoods are about nearby neighbors sharing and caring for common ground.

These communities don’t have to be built from scratch, or take much money at all. Section Four in the Pocket Neighborhoods book features a story about two subdivisions where residents have taken down their backyard fences to create a safe play-space for their kids. Another story tells about a suburban cul-de-sac where neighbors regularly take over the street for summer potlucks. In Baltimore and Los Angeles, residents along urban alleys have reclaimed their access lane as a shared commons, complete with BBQs, picnic tables and container gardens. And all over America, nearby neighbors are coming together to plan community gardens in vacant lots and undeveloped street right-of-ways.

New pocket neighborhoods can take the form of clustered homes around a garden in a variety of configurations in small towns or suburban settings. In urban settings, pocket neighborhoods are likely to be attached or stacked apartments opening onto a shared courtyard. This is because the higher value of urban land will force denser development. Cohousing is another form of pocket neighborhood that is becoming more common, but that will be for another blog post.

Style is not what matters; homes could take the form of Craftsman cottages, contemporary sheds, or urban lofts. Nor is location — suburban, urban, small town. It’s all about having a ‘scale of sociability’: nearby neighbors in relation around shared space in ways that foster community while preserving privacy.

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5 Responses to Not Just Cute Cottages

  1. Pingback: Barrios de bolsillo: los 'microvecindarios' que triunfan en un mundo globalizado | FIRS

  2. B. C. King says:

    I am African American and I would like to know where there are pocket communities that might have a diverse populations of resident that I would be welcome to become a resident. And I would also like to know if there are any plans to establish pocket communities in North Florida, or South Georgia. Preferably a pocket community that is also a walking community where there are grocery stores, pharmacies, retail stores, maybe movie houses, and of course parks and open
    community spaces.

    Finally what does it cost to establish such a community?

    I love the detail descriptions you provide this is the first website that I have found so much information and I have been looking. So Thanks

    • Ross Chapin says:

      We’re finding interest across the country, including the SouthEast. As yet, though, we haven’t been contacted by builders or developers in North Florida /South Georgia. Try reaching Bruce Tolar in Ocean Springs, MS. Look here for more suggestions. / You’re right on for wanting to live in a walking community! / Construction costs vary widely from region to region, and even locally. You’ll need to talk with a local builder or developer. Generally houses in a PN are smaller, which may cost less by virtue of size, but higher price elements such as kitchens, bathrooms, elec service, hookup fees, etc can raise the price per square foot. And then there are amenities like a common house, toolshed and BBQ that are shared by all residents that add to the house cost.

  3. Jean Panyard says:

    Dear Ross:

    I love your work. I have been reading your site for and enjoying your plans for many years. I live in a suburb of metropolitan Detroit. Currently the current Detroit administration is making a case for downsizing. There is no doubt in my mind that that will occur in some fashion. It is having a hard sell in the local communities. How about reaching out to the mayor and show him what you’ve accomplished? Maybe there could be a wonderful project for you. I would love to see pocket neighborhoods in Detroit! They are already doing wonderful things with community gardens.


    Jean Panyard

    • Ross Chapin says:

      Jean, the Pocket Neighborhood idea would be terrific in Detroit, as well as in cities across the country. The best next step on this would be to pass the PN book to your mayor, or pass along a link to this website.

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