A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2021


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Pocket Neighborhoods  -  Good Things in Small Packages    Part II


by Candace Brown



 Photo by Brian Ducey


In the Fall 2011 issue of Neighborhood Life, we presented the concept of “pocket neighborhoods” in an article based on an interview with award-winning architect, planner, and author Ross Chapin. Chapin defines pocket neighborhoods as “clustered groups of neighboring houses or apartments gathered around a shared open space.” He knows his topic well, after designing many of these small communities, all based on living arrangements humans have found beneficial for a very long time. His firm, Ross Chapin Architects, is doing exciting things all over the U.S. and in parts of Canada and the U.K., and Chapin has written a book called “Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small Scale Community in a Large Scale World.”

In this issue, we bring you an interview with Brian Ducey of Seattle, who along with his wife, Colleen Ducey, lives in one of the pocket neighborhoods Chapin designed. Faced with an “empty nest,” this couple made the move from their 2,500 square foot family home to the Greenwood Avenue Cottages where square footage ranges from 768 to 998. Here Ducey tells how this decision changed their lives.

NL: How did you first become interested in this concept, and by what process did you make the decision to move into a pocket neighborhood?

Ducey: We lived in a house near Green Lake (in Seattle’s north end), about 2,500 square feet. Both of our children were grown up and moved out. We loved where we lived, but we had to commit so much time to keeping the yard up, and we didn’t fully utilize the house any more. My wife had sort of been talking about figuring out a way to downsize, and there really weren’t any options that were feasible. We didn’t want to move into a townhouse or an apartment, but there were no other options.

That talk went on for a year or so and nothing happened. Then one day we saw an ad in The Seattle Times for a new development out in Shoreline. It was an open house, and we decided to go out and look at it, kind of on a whim. I walked into the walkway and Ross was standing there. I didn’t know who he was. I said to him, “If you had to buy one of these houses which one would you buy?” He pointed to the model. We walked in and just sort of fell in love with it.

The open house hadn’t started. We’d been there about a half an hour and we left and were driving back to our house. I looked over at my wife…

(With just a glance at each other, and a few words, they knew that this was something they both wanted to do.)

We turned around, went back, and put money down on the house. We sold our house in Green Lake in one day and moved in five days later.

 Photo by Brian Ducey

N.L. What was it like to make the transition, in terms of space?

Ducey: Well that was interesting, because obviously with as much stuff as we had in our other house, we had to get rid of a lot. And we did. First of all, it was a little hard. Then ultimately, it felt very freeing. We still had two “pods” full of stuff that we’d put into storage. After about two months—and paying $120.00 a month for them—we said, “You know, we really don’t need any of this stuff. Let’s just bring the pods into the parking lot and go through it.” So we did that and got rid of a bunch more stuff. And it was even more freeing! (He laughs.)

Ducey said most of his neighbors are in their 50s and 60s. But a young couple and their small children live next door and “they do just fine.” He and Colleen have grandchildren who live nearby and visit frequently.

N.L.: How do your grandchildren benefit from this pocket neighborhood?

Ducey: The real benefit for them is that, not only do they love to play in the house, but the commons area is a playground for them, with no exposure to the road. So it’s essentially a closed area, a large enclosed garden with a walkway and a rockery around the periphery. They can ride their tricycles and scooters and play on the lawn. So it just becomes a big yard for them to play on.


N.L.: Is privacy ever an issue?

Ducey: No

N.L: I understand some of the principals involved with creating a sense of privacy, such as the positioning of the homes in relation to each other, window placement, fences and hedges and such. It seems to work then, I guess.

 Ducey: It’s not an issue, although we do live very close together. Privacy is never an issue. Absolutely works. Yes.


 Photo by Brian Ducey


N.L: How important is a homeowner’s personality when it comes to fitting into this situation? Does this work for some people and not for others?

Ducey: I would say “Yes.” (He was meaning that it is important) There have been a few turnovers here in the complex. We’re attuned to potential people who want to move in here and hope they will be a good fit for the rest of us. You do end up living close together. And you do end up interacting with each other on a regular basis. So it’s important—if you’re going to move into this type of a complex—that you’re willing to be flexible and work with people.

The best example I can give you is that when you live in a typical neighborhood, you have people who live on either side of you and across the street. If you end up not liking them, or not getting along with them, you can pretty much live without exposure to them on a regular basis. But in this neighborhood, you deal with them in a different way. You’re more accepting or understanding. You have to deal with them almost like a family, just because you interact with them so much.

N.L.:  Do you have any advice for people considering buying a home in a pocket neighborhood?

Ducey: There’s a little bit of a leap of faith that you’ll be able to acclimate to the personalities. For the most part, we’re all politically leaning in the same direction, and we all get along with each other. We say you sort of have to get it to move in here. There are people that come in here that don’t get it, and it’s pretty obvious right away that they don’t. You’ll have people come in and look and say, “Maybe I’d like this for a rental house or something.” That’s not going to work.

N.L.: Does it stimulate people to be on their best behavior? Does it bring that out in people?

Ducey: Yes. That’s a good way to put it.

N.L.: What’s your favorite aspect of this neighborhood?

Ducey: I don’t know. It’s super peaceful. It’s peaceful and beautiful. The gardens are beautiful, just the whole environment. The porch is so important in these particular homes. You’re sitting on your porch in the summertime and your neighbor is sitting on their porch, and you’re talking back and forth. It’s just a wonderful way to live, especially in the city.



N. L.: Concerning the gardens in the common area, do people who live there—those who love gardening—just choose to work on it? How do you make decisions, or do you make decisions, about what is planted?

Ducey: We have a gardening committee. They make decisions on the commons garden, and then everybody takes care of their own garden inside their little fences. They are small, three-foot fences.


 Photo by Brian Ducey


N.L.: How often do the neighbors gather socially, in an organized way?

Ducey: Not quite as much as it used to be, but we used to have potlucks every Saturday night. We had a brunch a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday. In the summertime, we probably eat together more. We’ll bring the tables out on the lawn and do the French countryside dinner.

There are many known advantages to pocket neighborhoods in terms of enjoying a sense of community, a feeling of security, and mutual concern and assistance if needed. But Ducey was asked about any disadvantages.

Ducey: There are no disadvantages from our perspective. We’ve been happy here ever since we moved here and really couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. A number of our family members were skeptical. At the time, it was more expensive per square foot than a typical house was, even a new house. The perception of value was based on the square footage.

But the value is in the location, the situation, the beauty, the whole package. You don’t have the sound of the street. You don’t see the cars going by. The garages are all offset outside the perimeter of the houses, so you don’t see the cars. It’s kind of like a little garden oasis. We’re coming up on ten years, and we’re planning on staying here until we die or until our grandchildren move away.

N.L.: It must have been meant to be.

Ducey: Yes. It was meant to be.


 Photo by Brian Ducey


Links to more information about this neighborhood and pocket neighborhoods in general:

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

(Direct link to order the book is: http://pocket-neighborhoods.net/buybook.html)

Pocket Neighborhoods – Ross Chapin Architects

Ross Chapin Architects page for Greenwood Avenue Cottages




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