Pocket Neighborhoods – Book Review

Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World

I recently received Ross Chapin’s new book called Pocket Neighborhoods to review and share with you. This is a beautiful coffee table style hard bound book written by Ross Chapin. Ross Chapin is an architect and long-time advocate for sensibly sized houses and vibrant neighborhoods. He leads an architectural and planning firm on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, Washington, where he has lived and worked since 1982.

This book covers modern day pocket neighborhoods across the country and includes the fascinating history of this type of neighborhood which Ross Chapin discovered while researching the book. The book is published by The Taunton Press in 2011.

What is a pocket neighborhood? Pocket neighborhoods are clustered groups of neighboring houses or apartments gathered around some sort of shared open space — a garden courtyard, a pedestrian street, a series of joined backyards, or a reclaimed alley — all of which have a clear sense of territory and shared stewardship. They can be in urban, suburban or rural areas.

These are settings where nearby neighbors can easily know one another, where empty nesters and single householders with far-flung families can find friendship or a helping hand nearby, and where children can have shirttail aunties and uncles just beyond their front gate.

Photo Credit: Ross Chapin

What Kind of People are interested in Pocket Neighborhoods? All kinds! Singles, Empty-Nester Couples, Families, the ‘Great Generation’, Baby Boomers, Gen-X and Y, Millennials — anyone who wants to live in a close, tight-knit neighborhood.

Photo Credit Ross Chapin

Is zoning an issue for pocket neighborhoods? Most towns and cities have zoning regulations that limit housing to detached, single family homes on large private lots with a street out front. Forward-thinking planners are seeing pocket neighborhoods as a way to increase housing options and limit sprawl, while preserving the character of existing neighborhoods.

Photo Credit Ross Chapin

From my perspective as the editor of the Tiny House Blog I see this as an option for a tiny house community. Ross Chapin has built several pocket neighborhoods using small cottages and I see this as an opportunity for a similar situation using tiny homes. Can you imagine a community built with Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny Houses nestled in a corner of a town or in a more rural setting beside a lake? Or how about a cluster of Scott Stewart’s Slabtown Custom Homes in a similar situation in Arkansas? Something to think about…

You can learn more about Ross Chapin and his work at his website called Ross Chapin. He has also opened a new website and blog dedicated to Pocket Neighborhoods with a lot more information that covers many questions regarding this great idea.

I highly recommend Ross Chapin’s book and it is available at Amazon at a very great price. The list price is $30 and is available at Amazon for $18.66.

Photo Credit Ross Chapin
Photo Credit Grey Crawford
Photo Credit Ross Chapin

20 thoughts on “Pocket Neighborhoods – Book Review”

  1. I guess that’s fine if you don’t wish privacy, quiet, calm…I would suffocate living that close to someone else. Tried it once and knew I would never do it again. Tiny homes, YES! Tiny neighborhoods, NO!

    • A tiny house on a regular sized lot contributes just as much to urban sprawl as any other single family dwelling. The main ecological benefit of smaller dwellings is to allow increased density. Having more people living closer together and requiring fewer roads means less destruction of wilderness. It also means less dependence on cars and the pollution and congestion they cause. Density makes it possible to have efficient transit systems and also allows people to get to more destinations by walking or cycling.

        • There is a co-housing complex near where I live that has apartments but has a central courtyard as well, with lots of space for mingling. There are a variety of apartments, some quite small, others larger for families. I think you could combine the pocket neighbourhood concept with a bunch of tiny low-rise apartments and small houses to make a great place to live.

      • Density does do all of these wonderful things. The fact is htough that to really get density you are likely looking at other forms of housing than sfd. That being said, this concept does do all htose things to a degree. This type of set up would be great for a co-op or an intentional community. A contributer to the state we’re in now is this “go it alone” attitude prevalent in the US, whereas as humans we have always been dependent on a community. THe failure of sprawl and the suburbs has to do with the detachment from community as well as the loss of wild and agricultural land. As our world chages, most people will need to be in communities where we can work together to provide for our needs and improve our standard of living rather than everyone off being independent and self-sufficient. The Transition Towns movement has an interesting take on this.

        That being said I often have the urge to go somewhere off the grid and be self-sufficient. I think it will remain a dream though. As humans we are social being.

        “If what you sell is privacy and exclusivity, then every new house is a degradation of the amenity. However, if what you sell is community, then every new house is an enhancement of the asset.”
        (Vince Graham)

      • @frank,

        in australia over the past 6 months 7 children were seriously injured falling out of apartment windows. there are advantages and disadvantages to all styles of dwelling and emotional/psychological health is important. so i think we need to be more open minded in the ways we aim to protect the wilderness, not expecting everyone to live in urban apartments.
        this tiny house village addresses some of the urban sprawl issues – ie. in the suburbs in australia there are large and very large homes with one or two person living in them, and often these take up the whole block of land leaving no ‘green’ space.
        this micro village allows for shared land which is a better use of suburbia – and could be utilised for fruit and vegetable gardens as well as recreation. the smaller the home the smaller the carbon footprint so another plus there.

        i think addressing population growth and at the same time aiming to attract more single people and young couples to living in apartments is a good start. some people whose families have grown up may see advantages in higher density living if their needs are catered for, but i would be concerned about people becoming isolated in their old age. there is a lot of talk of the community of apartments but in reality that is often not the case – also there is the stress of putting up with noise, cigarette smoke, etc.

        the other disadvantage of urban density is the concreting over of any kind of biodiversity – i for one have no desire to live in a concrete jungle and think the suburbs need to be revisited with an eye to sustainability and carbon emissions reduction – there is great potential for better use of land and more communal sharing of open spaces for growing food and other useful crops like bamboo. there are many other advantages to living in a semi-rural environment which is why suburbs emerged in the first place!


        • I think these sorts of communities fall somewhere between multi-story apartments and suburban sprawl. I see these as a nice buffer between a dense ubran environment and rural land.

  2. A pocket neighbourhood is a very sensible option for those who appreciate village life but find themselves needing to live close to urban amenities and job opportunities. It’s especially nice for children to have the calm pedestrian atmosphere at the centre of their world instead of hectic traffic. I’ve lived in similar neighbourhoods and it can be a really great way to live if you’re not a hermit type. Hope my library has this book!

    • I agree. This looks like a wonderful place to raise children. When my kids were little, I lived on a cul-de-sac of townhomes where kids could ride their bikes and safely play together and where parents knew one another well and chatted. Now they are older and come home after school and I don’t know any of my neighbors. Who would they go to if locked out? The dog runs out the yard, someone brings it home to you because they know who it belongs to. When there are kids, this is exactly the type of community that benefits the whole family.

      Mr. Chapin: Your web site is beautiful and every one of your homes has a lovely design. The built-ins are fantastic. I can’t wait to see your book. Thank you for your great ideas.

      • Thanks Irene. You will enjoy the section in the book about “A Child’s World”. Children have need for their horizons to expand with their development. PNs offer this especially for the critical ages of 4-10.

  3. This is a great idea for retirees or a family that like being close to one another (like mine). When people retire they often want to be off the beaten path but there comes a time when being near to others is much more important. Assisted living, and associated facilities are awful. I consider this a vast improvement on that concept.

    It would also be a great way to live in another country where Expats could retire but still have access to good medical care and live safely like in Mexico.

  4. Oh how I would love to live in such a place. I’ve been following Ross Chapin’s pocket neighborhoods from when I first read of them. Pocket neighborhoods and co-housing neighborhoods speak to something that I feel is lacking in many neighborhoods.

    @Sheila Greenfield: I respectfully disagree with you that all assisted living facilities are awful. My mother lives in a lovely one and absolutely LOVES it.

    • I love this idea, but I’d put a bit more space for gardening–and have firm rules about noise. One of the greatest pleasures there is is sitting on the front porch and enjoying people watching in the evening.

      One wonderful thing about Chapin’s houses is how he has so much storage built in. I love his built in breakfast nooks—I wonder if you can do those in a really nice way so they pull out into beds like they do in RVs?

      I have books of bungalow plans from the Twenties and Thirties, and they had so many built ins. This mean you didn’t need as much furniture and the space seemed more expansive than it really was. Chapin’s definitely got the right idea. A house with built ins seems cozy and welcoming.

      I can hardly wait to get this book! IF only it came in Kindle format. I think that’s another thing that will make tiny house living more possible: being able to have your books on a Kindle or E reader type of thing.

    • True, there are nice assisted living facilities, especially here in Florida, but they are expensive and if you can’t afford something nice they can be quite awful.

  5. I love this idea, provided you can get along with your neighbors! I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be to have to share space like that with someone you couldn’t stand.

    About the assisted living facilities all being awful – what a terrible generalization. My grandparents live in a very nice facility with a well-equipped “apartment” and nurses to assist them with their medication, to assist my grandmother with bathing (she has Parkinson’s that limits her ability to do things for herself), a dining facility that provides meals, and activities to keep them busy. The facility itself is great – the only complaints stem more from a realization that they can no longer live independently, and that they will never be able to return to their house.

  6. I would like to see counties and municipalities adopt zoning and tax classifications to make these communities viable for those who enjoy a communal style of living.

    It’s not for me, I’ve lived in apartments, densely zoned urban and suburban communities only to find the same issues argued over and over at home owner association meetings. I’ve found that the more elbow room folks have, the easier it is for everyone to get along.

  7. I’ve always loved this idea… What I call the “Golden Girls” groups. Friends living close but still privacy. I’ve designed units (No architecturally or design talent) but really believe in this.. Hope I can live in group like this someday with friends nearby…


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