I’ll skip the photo today and share my Amazon review of architect Ross Chapin’s terrific new book: Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World.
Okay, first off, the disclaimer. I live in a Ross Chapin home in a neighborhood of Ross Chapin homes. My wife and I both had extensive conversations with Chapin during the design process. Does that make me biased? Or does it show that I appreciated the concepts that Chapin details in his book before he fully articulated them in print? Probably both.
Ross Chapin is a thoughtful person who has spent decades considering how our homes, both individually and in aggregate, shape our interactions with our neighbors, with our stuff and with how we go about daily tasks. That’s a long- winded way of saying that this book is about community.
How does having an inviting front porch affect your willingness and ability to interact with neighbors? We sat on our front porch this afternoon and had coffee. In 15 minutes we had three conversations with passers by. It’s not just the fact that Chapin’s houses all have front porches that makes this possible. He has considered the door placement in relation to the porch width. He has considered the construction (hint: not solid) and optimal height for the porch railings. And so on and so on.
Each room in the house has been considered, it’s relation to the other rooms, to the light from windows, to the flow of traffic, to the size and shape. But in this book, he’s gone beyond the single dwelling to consider how homes work in relationship to each other to facilitate the creation of true neighborhoods, not just adjacent buildings inhabited by near strangers. And we don’t get only Chapin’s ideas in the book. He has done a lot of research about neighborhoods, examining what has worked in the past and why, as well as what hasn’t worked and why not. The result is a thoughtful and well considered exploration of pocket neighborhoods.
BTW, a pocket neighborhood has a common green space shared by the community, a common building for connecting in, modestly sized homes that don’t give garages pride of placement. As I’ve mentioned, the homes have front porches that face the community, not just weather coverings for the front door but real porches that encourage sitting down and sharing a word or a drink with neighbors. I can’t say whether all of Chapin’s neighborhoods work as well as ours does, but I feel more sense of community now than I ever have in a city.