June 07 2013

Designing a Neighborhood within a Neighborhood: A Book Review of Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World

Book Cover for Pocket Neighborhoods

Are pocket neighborhoods the answer to creating detached housing units that are more vibrant? In Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World, author and architect Ross Chapin explains how pocket neighborhoods, which are groups of homes clustered around a shared outdoor space, create a sense of place within a city.

For those seeking a housing option with a small town feel in a larger city, living in a pocket neighborhood may be for you. Pocket neighborhoods are typically four to sixteen households built to foster “neighborly” relationships. They are a neighborhood within a neighborhood. The key design feature of these neighborhoods is the shared outdoor space. Chapin describes it as the space between the public and private realms that fosters casual encounters amongst neighbors. Examples include garden courts, joined backyards, or reclaimed alleys.

Danielson Grove

Danielson Grove

Chapin uses many of his own built projects in the book. The design of the Danielson Grove neighborhood in Kirkland, Washington (just east of Seattle) follows the pocket neighborhood principles outlined previously. It is a community of 16 three-bedroom homes and one and two-bedroom cottages organized around a shared garden courtyard. With the case of the Danielson Grove neighborhood, the City of Kirkland is using this project as part of the Innovative Housing Demonstration Program to establish new methods to increase the housing supply.

Architect Ross Chapin’s new book uses an illustrative approach to describe the pattern of development of pocket neighborhoods that is suited for both the beginner and the novice. For those unfamiliar with this house design concept, Chapin discovers the settlement pattern of pocket neighborhoods through its origin to present day. And if you are already an advocate of pocket neighborhoods, the book offers several case studies with design keys on topics such as what makes a good porch, or what makes co-housing work.

Do you know of any examples of pocket neighborhoods in your community? If so, what benefits do they offer?

Want your own copy of this book? The GRID is giving away four FREE copies. Follow the link to the giveaway to enter for a chance to win your free copy. Good luck!

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

Amanda Bosse

Amanda Bosse is a former writer for the GRID. At the time she was writing, she was in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Washington. Growing up in the Midwest, she became interested in the dialogue between the individual structures and the urban fabric (including those structures not typically designed by architects). With a background in both architecture and urban design, Amanda was primarily interested in applying architectural thinking to solve larger scale design problems.

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4 Responses to “Designing a Neighborhood within a Neighborhood: A Book Review of Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World”

  1. Jerod Says:

    I read this and think of homeowners associations and building codes that prevent such “pockets” from forming. We must realize out built environment, unlike the constitution, should be easily amendable. Regulations are not and should not be set in stone and they should change as the wants and needs of the inhabitants of a space change. I view this as an increasing problem with in America’s built environment.

  2. Jordan Says:

    The concept reminds me of a reverse cul-de-sac. I grew up at the end of a cul-de-sac, and the neighbourhood kids would use it as a shared space for play. In the summer, we would have a neighbourhood block party in the cul-de-sac. It would definitely be a much better used space if it were green instead of paved!

  3. Po Sun Says:

    From what we study in classes, shared spaces are crucial in helping to foster a sense of identity for a community group. The idea of collective responsibility that crosses public/private boundaries removes the common barriers that are evident in many of North American neighborhoods. However, continued and consistent programming that promote community involvement will be the next step in helping that community grow.

  4. Natalia Cagide Says:

    Just bought the book, excited to see all the different ideas and layouts. We’re always told about residential design at a neighborhood scale, but what about these micro spaces that truly creat sense of place, stewardship and pride? Not to mention the environmental, health and aesthetic benefits related to creating micro green spaces! Great topic!

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