Archive for March, 2011

Cozy pocket neighborhoods have sprawl on the move

By Andy Rogers/Red Box Pictures, for USA TODAY

When Brian and Colleen Ducey’s two adult children moved out, their large empty home on a quiet dead-end street in Seattle suddenly lost its homey feel. 

Brian and Colleen Ducey, right, chat with neighbor Eileen McMackin on their front porch in Shoreline, Wash., where eight bungalows share a yard, garden and commons building.
Brian and Colleen Ducey, right, chat with neighbor Eileen McMackin on their front porch in Shoreline, Wash., where eight bungalows share a yard, garden and commons building.
“We had a big, 2,500-square-foot home that we weren’t using,” says Brian, 58. “We had a very large yard. We felt tied to it every weekend trying to make it look halfway decent. … It was a great house, but too big.
“They looked for something smaller, but their only options were condominiums — until they saw an ad for an unusual new development just across city limits in Shoreline, Wash.: Eight cottages around a central garden. The first view from the access drive was the gable of a commons building and colorful rooftops jutting up behind it.
One look at the charming cluster of small homes (less than 1,000 square feet) and the Duceys put money down, sold their house and moved in five weeks later.
“It’s like the ultimate for us,” Brian says.
After decades of living large — mini-mansions in sprawling subdivisions the size of cities — some Americans are retrenching and showing a new appreciation for small, cozy and neighborly.
Architect Ross Chapin, who designed Greenwood Avenue Cottages, where the Duceys live, has coined a term for these new compact communities: pocket neighborhoods.
His new book — Pocket Neighborhoods, Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World— documents a surprisingly broad array of such developments across the USA, from urban neighborhoods to suburban and rural areas.
  • BACKYARD COTTAGES: Seattle makes a dent in housing need
  • Based in Langley, Wash., Chapin has developed 40 pocket neighborhoods across the country — many in partnership with Seattle developer Jim Soules of The Cottage Co. He is currently working on projects in Indiana, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

    Cities in the Puget Sound area have adopted cottage housing ordinances that often allow twice the number of homes on a lot as long as they’re small, limited in height and face a common area.

    “Jurisdictions around the country are looking at these and adopting them,” Chapin says. “The idea of a pocket neighborhood is that you have nearby neighbors coming together around a shared space. … This really harkens back to the fact that we, as humans, are social. We want to be together.

    “Together but private. And that’s what pocket neighborhoods may bring to a society that is increasingly aware of the need to save natural resources — no sprawl and less reliance on cars — yet still cherishes personal space.

    Back to the basics

    Changing demographics, including a large aging population fueled by the first of 77 million Baby Boomers turning 65 this year, also are reigniting a hunger for community.

    “Having just gone through this era of the housing bubble and McMansions growing out of nowhere … now we realize that a lot of that was phony,” says Ben Brown, a consultant who specializes in “new urbanism,” a planning principle that encourages compact, energy-efficient living and communities that foster walking over driving.

    Big houses get families to put all their needs under one roof, often isolating them from neighbors, he says. Now that gas prices are soaring, large homes that need lots of energy to heat and cool are losing their appeal.

    Homes in pocket neighborhoods may be small but are designed to feel big and airy. Many feature high ceilings and skylights. Parking spaces and garages are usually out of sight to encourage residents to walk home through the shared gardens.

    ‘Perfect for my mother’

    Developer Casey Land had always worked on large projects, such as shopping centers and multifamily units. Three years ago, partly inspired by Chapin’s cottage industry, Land decided to build the Inglenook Neighborhood in Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis.

    “A couple of times I had printed off little pictures of (Chapin’s) cottages,” he says. “Everybody always said, ‘That’s perfect for my mother.’ I had that comment more times than I can tell you.

    “Six two- and three-bedroom cottages, ranging from 1,100 to 1,800 square feet plus a basement, are under construction in the first phase. Price: $200,000 to $400,000.

    Land Development & Building Co. is putting Inglenook on 27 acres surrounded by existing development.

    “Our target market is an empty-nester, a single parent with a child or two,” Land says. “It might be a single person, widowed or divorced, or somebody thinking of buying a condo but who doesn’t want to live with shared walls and wants to have a garden for therapy.

    “Rosemary Sowler, 55, is single and childless and lives half a mile away. She and her longtime best friend, also single, talked for years about combining their households when they neared retirement. They were drawn to Inglenook’s location and environmental standards.

    “Once I heard about the plan not only for the common areas but for the green aspects, I got excited,” says Sowler, a nurse who handles medical claims. “This is what we need to be doing in our homes. We need to build smarter and not larger.

    “Todd and Jeannette Staheli and their two children live in a 1,000-square-foot cottage at Greenwood Avenue in Shoreline. After four years in their previous home, built in 1923, they still didn’t feel like part of a community.

    They know their neighbors at Greenwood. Kids play in the common area. Weekly potluck dinners bring everyone together. Need someone to water the plants or feed the fish? Ask neighbors. Plus, their utility bills have dropped by half.

    “We have less than the square footage of the typical American home,” Todd Staheli says, “and I’m sure we have less than half the hassle.”

    March 30, 2011 at 5:42 pm Leave a comment

    How to Design a Neighborhood for Happiness

    Published on Monday, March 28, 2011 by

    How to Design a Neighborhood for Happiness

    by Jay Walljasper

    Conover Commons in Redmond, Washington, designed by Ross Chapin, author of the book Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World.

    Biology is destiny, declared Sigmund Freud.

    But if Freud were around today, he might say “design is destiny”—especially after taking a stroll through most American cities.

    The way we design our communities plays a huge role in how we experience our lives. Neighborhoods built without sidewalks, for instance, mean that people walk less and therefore experience fewer spontaneous encounters, which is what instills a spirit of community to a place. That’s a chief cause of the social isolation so rampant in the modern world that contributes to depression, distrust and other maladies.

    You don’t have to be a therapist to realize all this creates lasting psychological effects. It thwarts the connections between people that encourage us to congregate, cooperate and work for the common good. We retreat into ever more privatized existences.

    Of course, this is no startling revelation. Over the past 40 years, the shrinking sense of community across America has been widely discussed, and many proposals outlined about how to bring us back together. 

    One of the notable solutions being put into practice to combat this problem is New Urbanism, an architectural movement to build new communities (and revitalize existing ones) by maximizing opportunities for social exchange: public plazas, front porches, corner stores, coffee shops, neighborhood schools, narrow streets and, yes, sidewalks. 

    This line of thinking has transformed many communities, including my own World War I-era neighborhood in Minneapolis, which thankfully has sidewalks but was once bereft of the inviting public places that animate a community. Now I marvel at all the choices I have to mingle with the neighbors over a cappuccino, Pabst Blue Ribbon, juevos rancheros, artwork at a gallery opening or head of lettuce at the farmer’s market.

    But while New Urbanism is making strides at the level of the neighborhood, we still spend most of our time at home, which today means seeing no one other than our nuclear family. How could we widen that circle just a bit?  Not a ‘60s commune (“pass the brown rice, comrade, and don’t forget your shift cleaning the toilet ”), but good neighbors with whom we share more than a property line.

    That’s an idea Seattle-area architect Ross Chapin has explored for many years, and now showcases in an inspiring and beautiful new book: Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating a Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World.

    He believes that groupings of four to twelve households make an ideal community “where meaningful ‘neighborly’ relationships are fostered.” But even here, design shapes our destiny. Chapin explains that strong connections between neighbors develop most fully and organically when everyone shares some “common ground”. 

    That can be a semi-private square, as in the pocket neighborhoods Chapin designed in the Seattle area. In the book’s bright photographs, they look like grassy patches of paradise, where kids scamper, flowers bloom, and neighbors stop to chat.

    But Chapin points out these commons can take many different forms—an apartment building in Cambridge with a shared backyard, a group of neighbors in Oakland who tore down their backyard fences to create a commons, a block in Baltimore that turned their alley into a pubic commons, or the residential pedestrian streets found in Manhattan Beach, California, and all around Europe.

    The benefits of a living in a pocket neighborhood go farther than you might imagine. I lived in one while in graduate school, a rundown 1886 rowhouse with its own courtyard near the University of Minnesota campus.  At no other time in my life have I become such close friends with my neighbors. We shared impromptu afternoon conversations at the picnic table and parties that went into the early hours of the morning under Italian lights we strung from the trees. 

    When the property was sold to an ambitious young man who jacked up the rents to raise capital for the eventual demolition of the building to make way for an ugly new one, we organized a rent strike. And we won, which would never have happened if we had not already forged strong bonds with each other. Because the judged ruled that the landlord could not raise our rents until he fixed up the building, he abandoned plans to knock it down. It still stands today, and I remain friends with some of the old gang that partied in the courtyard.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm Leave a comment

    As ARC’s Chick Krautler retires, metro Atlanta’s leadership in flux

    By Maria Saporta – from

    At a pivotal moment for metro Atlanta, a major transition in leadership is underway.

    Chick Krautler, director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, announced today his plan to retire on June 30 after 11 years with the planning agency.

    Krautler’s retirement follows the departure of two other key members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s senior team — Tom Weyandt, the agency’s director of comprehensive planning; and Tony Landers, ARC’s director of community services.

    At the same time, ARC is playing an integral role in helping put together a list of projects that would be included in the regional transportation sales tax referendum scheduled for August, 2012. The project list must be approved in October.

    The ARC also is working on its Plan 2040 that sets the stage for transportation investments as well as helps steer development in the region. Population estimates for the 10-county region project that 8 million people will call metro Atlanta home by 2040 compared to 5 million today. That’s like adding a San Diego to metro Atlanta in the next 30 years.

    ARC also has been a leading voice to create an umbrella regional transit agency that could coordinate the multiple public transit operators metro Atlanta — from MARTA, Cobb County Transit, Gwinnett Transit and the Xpress buses operated by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

    Historically, one of the major roles of an ARC director is to build consensus in the Atlanta region among the disparate groups and interests.

    There’s intown versus suburban versus exurban. There’s elected officials versus citizens members. There’s the tension between mayors versus county commission chairs. There’s the tug of war between developers and environmentalists. There Democrats versus Republicans. There’s the pro-road folks versus the transit and alternative transportation types. There’s the northern part of the metro area versus the southern part. And then there’s always the issue of race, income, gender and age.

    In short, building consensus in such a diverse region is difficult even during the best of times.

    As part of this leadership transition, the ARC board is doing a strategic review of the organization which could cause some other changes in the executive structure. What is not known is how this uncertainty will impact metro Atlanta’s ability to build consensus and then to have an influential voice among state decision-makers.

    After announcing his retirement plans, Krautler said he had debated staying until he turned 65 early next year or even through the sales tax referendum. But he thought it would be better to get new leaders in place as quickly as possible. He said it should be up to the next director to pick his or her own senior staff.

    Meanwhile, Krautler said he’s not concerned about how ARC will maneuver during this transition.

    “We’ve got really good people here,” he said of his staff.

    In looking ahead to a possible successor, Krautler insisted that “there are lots of good people here in Atlanta” and that it was possible that a new team could be put in place rather quickly.

    Tad Leithead, a consultant who is ARC’s chairman, said the executive committee and the board would work on an “orderly transition plan” that could include the naming of an interim director and a search for a permanent director.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:03 pm Leave a comment


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