According to the Good Neighbour Survey, only 41% of Kiwis considered themselves to be a great neighbour compared with 92% percent of Americans interviewed for a similar US poll.
While 90% of New Zealanders consider that it’s important to sustain civil neighbourly communication, 42% admit to knowing less neighbours than when they were growing up. A UK study earlier this year discovered one in six Brits didn’t know even their neighbours’ first names and, rather more worryingly, over a quarter wouldn’t trust them to look after their homes while on holiday anyway. The establishment of ‘pocket neighbourhoods’ is looking to reverse this global trend and bring back a sense of good old fashioned community spirit, the idea being to create friendly, sustainable communities within existing neighbourhoods.
Architect Ross Chapin coined the pocket neighbourhood concept in 1996 in collaboration with developer Jim Soules, establishing a collection of cottages around a shared garden on the north west coast of Washington state. “They just seemed like jewel boxes,” Chapin tells the Huffington Post, “tucked away off of a busy street. And I said ‘this is like a pocket neighbourhood’.”
Those original eight cottages, measuring just a little over 900-square-metres, generated an unexpected amount of excitement from a wide range of would-be buyers. It wasn’t long before Ross and his team at Ross Chapin Architects, along with Jim Soules, were establishing similar developments of eight to twelve dwellings throughout the Seattle area and beyond. “Living in a rather larger, high maintenance home is not a dream for retirement,” continues Chapin. “And kids of baby boomers, those in their 20s and 30s, are looking for smaller houses in full-service neighbourhoods… Think about a small group of people, chatting, conversing — it just happens spontaneously. Now think of a neighbourhood with 200 houses — they don’t come together, they’ve turned their backs on one another.”
With just one or two people living in two out of three US homes, pocket neighbourhoods don’t just make environmental sense, but are economically sound too. According to the North Shore Times, Auckland City agency Panuku Development is keen to see them established here. “Pocket neighbourhood projects are seen as a great way to encourage collective guardianship over services and open spaces for the good of the greater community,” says director Allan Young. Roger Levie, chief executive of Homeowners & Buyers Association of New Zealand, adds, “that sort of creative thinking around land development and communities is exactly what Auckland needs.”
The concept is fast gaining traction globally. “There is a universal desire to live in a coherent community,” Chapin tells the Vancouver Sun. “I’m not talking about the next fad. I’m talking about going back to our roots as human beings.”