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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pocket Neighbourhoods: an affordable housing option for Langley?

Example Pocket Neighbourhood. Source: http://www.pocket-neighborhoods.net/patterns/clusters.html

The Township of Langley has been developing an affordable housing action plan over the last few years. While I’ll likely talk more about the plan on a future post, there is a new idea about creating affordable and community-oriented housing called a Pocket Neighbourhood that has been getting some traction. A Pocket Neighbourhood clusters about a dozen smaller sized single-family houses around a common public space. These pocket neighbourhoods prioritize people and deemphasize the auto. In fact, Pocket Neighbourhoods are link to other parts of the community via a trail systems with housing and the common public space oriented along that trail system. Because a Pocket Neighbourhood uses smaller-size houses than typical, it provides more cost-effective housing options than the typical single-family housing development. This form of housing contributes to the diversity of housing options in a community.

The Township of Langley has a goal in the Willoughby Community Plan to provide housing types as follows: approximately 20% single family, 5% row housing, 25% townhouses, and 50% apartments. I could see Pocket Neighbourhoods being used as a replacement for the typically designed single-family and townhouse area. Of course, the key is still to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of higher-density housing options and a mix of uses to promote an overall transit and pedestrian-friendly community.

Early post-automobile suburban neighbourhood design; Radburn, New Jersey. Source: http://www.dairyriver.com/wordpress/?page_id=70

The one thing that struck me about the Pocket Neighbourhood idea is that it really isn’t a new idea at all. Traditional urban design clustered larger buildings around squares and grand parks. The earliest examples of suburban development patterns in North America were an adaptation of the Garden City idea which was very generally to group buildings around picturesque green space. In fact even with the introduction of the automobile, early suburban design focused on fronting housing and providing connectivity along pedestrian and transit corridors. The automobile was hidden in the back and its network connectivity was limited. The Pocket Neighbourhood is just a smaller-scale version of these very traditional design ideals. The key theme seems to be to focus on creating well connected, people-friendly spaces.

For more information about Pocket Neighbourhoods, I suggest that you check out the website PocketNeighborhoods that is completely devoted to the concept.

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