Discussing "Pocket Neighborhoods" in New Haven

Jul 20, 2012

The economy and environmental concerns are slowly reversing the trend of suburban sprawl and embracing concepts such as pocket neighborhoods – or groups of smaller houses clustered around a shared space, like a park or community garden. An architect who has revived the concept in the past 20 years shared his views in New Haven last night.

Ross Chapin has seen the effects of suburban sprawl in his hometown of White Bear Lake, MN. He grew up there when it was still a dense neighborhood made up of smaller homes – when he knew his neighbors and people walked between homes. Things are different now.

"We come home, we drive into our houses, we close the garage door behind us, and we have a family room which is family life, and then we’ve got the life of the house in the backyard surrounded by a six-foot high fence," Chapin says. "Meanwhile, the street out in front is empty.”

After moving to Washington state, Chapin began working with architects and officials in local towns to try and change things. He helped create new planning and zoning ordinances allowing for clusters of 20 or so houses around the size of a thousand square feet. The six neighborhoods and 100 houses he’s directly helped build sold out immediately – and that was in the 1990s, when the market for big houses was still booming. Now Chapin’s helping to plan dozens of other projects across the country, and the economics are more in his favor.

“People need to live with less, but less can be more," Chapin says." Especially when less has community as part of its equation, has neighbors that look after and care for one another.”

Pocket neighborhoods also reflect the real demographic of America, Chapin says – where today, more than 60 percent of households are made up of just one or two people.