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More boomers are opting for smaller neighborhoods with a bigger sense of community

Rising demand

Ross Chapin, who has designed 40 pocket neighborhoods, says he receives frequent inquiries from colleagues, developers, builders and would-be residents. Though no one keeps exact figures on the number of U.S. pockets, the majority are in the Pacific Northwest.

Chapin estimates that several dozen architects and developers are working on these projects. "When national conferences are doing panels on pocket neighborhoods, you know it's a big deal," says consultant Brown, who has participated in them.

Also gaining ground are affordable housing pockets, like the Cottages at Oak Park in Ocean Springs, Miss., where homes were in short supply after Hurricane Katrina. Completed last August, the community sits on a former trailer park, half a mile from the coastal town center.

These 29 separate cottages, constructed like custom homes, are all rentals. "I wasn't looking for a place, but they were that nice," says Mike Bruno, 56. Last September, the shipbuilding company manager moved into his $900-a-month, environmentally responsible two-bedroom. (One-bedrooms are $600 a month, a three-bedroom is $1,200.) Bruno's adult children think the homey setup, with nearby cobblestoned streets and greenery galore, is cool, and his young grandson likes all the friendly people.

Architect and developer Bruce Tolar, who designed the Cottages at Oak Park, also created adjacent Cottage Square, another pocket neighborhood with affordable housing. A third 40-cottage development will be completed soon in nearby Pass Christian. "It's a great way to inject affordable housing into existing communities," says Tolar. Residents don't have to worry about getting around; they can walk, bike or use public transportation. Within blocks are a grocery store, medical offices, a YMCA with older adult programs, two schools and parks.

Municipalities like the housing model, too. New water and gas lines don't have to be installed in existing neighborhoods. "We try to build a lot of aspects of pocket neighborhoods into every project in Ventura," says Rick Cole, Ventura, Calif., city manager. "Pocket neighborhoods have greater social cohesion. Places people care about hold much greater economic value than faceless suburbs."

Next: Cramped vs. cozy. »

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