Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith

I recently noticed a comment by a single-mother on social media lamenting the fact that there were no small-scale multifamily developments in Tullahoma with a familial and safe atmosphere conducive to raising children as a single parent. My mind immediately jumped to pocket neighborhoods, often referred to as “cottage communities,” which are clustered groups of neighboring houses, condos, or apartments gathered around a shared open space, such as a garden courtyard, a pedestrian street, or a series of joined backyards. Despite the communal nature of the neighborhood, however, each of the individual residential units have a clear sense of privacy and personal territory. The popularity of these neighborhoods has skyrocketed in recent years because of the opportunity they can provide residents to socialize and interact while still maintaining a clear delineation of individual ownership. These neighborhoods appeal to individuals and families, predominantly 30 to 40-year-old professionals, younger families, and empty-nesters, and single-parents who desire the low-maintenance of a condo or town home, but the privacy of a single-family home with no shared walls.

A natural occurrence as cities grow over time is that many of the best building sites for residential development are chosen first, leaving the most challenging and least desirable sites for last. Many areas in downtown Tullahoma fall into this category. According to Ross Chapin, architect and nationally recognized proponent of pocket communities, in these locations, the conventional cul-de-sac strategy does not always fit, but a pocket neighborhood approach with smaller houses and remote parking can offer flexibility to make a site viable for development. Not to mention, many of these sites downtown would be within walking distance to many community amenities.

From a marketing standpoint, the idea of being close to downtown, to arts, to restaurants, to nature, to activity, and to relationships within the surrounding community is one that Americans are rediscovering. The cottage community is an attempt to rekindle this traditional sense of community, “of front porches, of conservation, of Sunday dinners with neighbors – where the value of one’s life is not dictated by scale but by quality of time.” This lifestyle is appealing to young families purchasing their first home, as well as baby-boomers looking to downsize but remain near friends and family. Pocket neighborhood design is especially attractive to families, including single parents such as the young mother who inspired this article, with young children. Pocket communities can provide unique opportunities for children who need increasingly larger zones of play as they grow up and crave social interaction, yet too often feel painfully isolated by lack of access to safe, unplanned play areas where they are free to roam, explore, and discover. According to Chapin, “pocket neighborhoods provide a protected, traffic-free environment for a child’s widening horizon — a place for unplanned play alone and with other children, and a place to have relationships with caring adults other than parents.” This matches children’s growing curiosity, need for increased responsibilities and maturing social skills and is completely in tune with the parenting style of millennial moms.

The concept for the cottage community is a modern ode to an older and more familiar way of life. The design of cottage communities is inspired by the time-honored form of congregation and provides central courtyards and new special places for that lost art of conversation. Imagine a private and peaceful neighborhood, minutes from downtown Tullahoma and a short walk from the greenway, with a backdrop of one of Tullahoma’s walkable residential historic districts. At one of my favorite pocket neighborhoods that I have visited, each home was designed with community in mind, surrounded by a small, fenced private yard and sensitively arranged around garden courtyards with layers of native plantings. The community offered the luxury of both privacy and a secure neighborhood where neighbors were known by each other. This particular pocket neighborhood was intended for families seeking the comfort of a compact 1,000-2,400 square-foot two or three-bedroom, two-story floor plan and environmentally-friendly features in a community close to innovative job centers and the local university. It was ideal for newly tenured faculty, graduate students, downsizing seniors, and again, especially young families starting out in life.

Most all pocket neighborhoods feature one common unit for the exclusive use of neighborhood residents, featuring luxury conveniences and shared amenities such as a lounge with a flat-screen television, chef’s kitchen, grilling area, or a relaxing patio with an herb garden. The shared outdoor space at the center of a cluster of homes is a key element of a pocket neighborhood.

According to Chapin, “Residents surrounding this common space take part in its care and oversight, thereby enhancing a felt and actual sense of security and identity.” Located in the courtyard directly in front of the community buildings will often be a fire pit for residents to gather around. Front and back yards will often consist of open-air plazas or garden walks bordering landscaping. In my favorite pocket neighborhood referenced above, these areas feature permanently preserved native growth protection areas that serve as gateways connecting residents and visitors to nature and the surrounding community.

If this all sounds good to you, you may be wondering how the development of a pocket neighborhood might be possible under our current zoning and subdivision regulations. Without putting you all to sleep on a Sunday afternoon explaining what a horizontal property regime is, they are a type of planned unit development and you can read more about Tennessee Code 66-27-103. Horizontal property regime – Planned unit development - Establishment on websites such as, among others, and then feel free to reach out to me at if you would like to discuss further. You can view some of the wonderful pocket neighborhoods that Ross Chapin has developed on his website and for prolific readers like me, you may want to check out his book “Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World” (Taunton Press, 2011).

Be well, stay safe, and let’s all continue to do what we can, with what we’ve got, where we are.

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