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Share Common Ground

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

Pocket Neighborhood Umatilla Hill

Pocket neighborhoods are small on space but big on community. — Photo by Misha Gravenor

Rosemary Fowler calls them "the parade of gawkers." Every night after dinner, as she sits in the white wicker chaise on her front porch, she sees them stream by to check out her cozy neighborhood-in-the-making.

See also: Pocket neighborhood slideshow.

The Carmel, Ind., nurse, 56, is not surprised that her sunny yellow house, and the seven other two-story cottage-style homes in various stages of completion, are attracting attention. Instead of a street separating the $225,000-to-$400,000 homes that face one another, a landscaped courtyard divides them. Visitors walk to the front door of each home through a common walkway.

Although the houses are clustered together, their layouts ensure privacy: The houses may be close, but if one has large windows on one side, the wall of the house next door will be windowless. Each cottage has a picket fence in front.

Eventually, the development, called Inglenook, will have 27 cottages in groups of six or eight ranging from 1,000 to almost 2,200 square feet.

Fowler, who bought the small three-bedroom home and shares it with her best friend, Becky Meadows, 60, has not regretted her move from her bigger house and yard. "This is beautifully designed, easier to maintain and gives me more time to get to know my neighbors," she says.

Not that there are any yet. Fowler and Meadows are the new kids on the block in fact, the only kids in Indiana's first pocket neighborhood. Developer Casey Land is writing new contracts, so it's only a matter of time before Fowler will chat with neighbors hanging out on their porches. "I'm going to be part of a close-knit community where people look out for one another, socialize and when needed, take care of each other," says Fowler. "I fell in love with the concept."

A what?

Chances are, you will be hearing more about pocket neighborhoods. This increasingly popular housing option generally consists of a dozen or so compact houses or apartments that share common or green space. That might be a pedestrian walkway, garden, courtyard or shared backyard or alley. Central mailboxes give neighbors even more opportunities to interact.

Backyards are typically small, with the focus on the front especially those porches. Usually, pocket homes have an open floor plan and are newly constructed, but could also be in an existing enclave. Regardless, they are tucked into "pockets" of a neighborhood or part of a larger new development, often near walkable destinations like shops and restaurants.

Parking, you ask? Pockets may have a separate parking area or attached garages, but they deemphasize the automobile mentality, where drivers pull into garages and disappear into houses until it's time to hop back into the car. Instead, the architecture emphasizes forming relationships with neighbors.

Next: Why smaller may be better for boomers. »

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