In this series from Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering, we are going to take a deep, research-based dive into pocket neighborhoods. More than just a trendy buzzword, a pocket neighborhood can add real value to communities – especially tribal communities. In part two of this five-part series, we will examine the environmental benefits that pocket neighborhoods can offer.
Pocket Neighborhoods: Part 2
A pocket neighborhood, or a “cohesive cluster of homes gathered around some kind of common ground,” offers a number of benefits to residents. One of the most appealing is the environmental sustainability possible in these housing developments. From reduced carbon emissions and smaller footprints to the possibility of shared clean energy generation and increased walkability, there are a number of reasons that environmentally-friendly people gravitate toward pocket neighborhoods.
ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS OF POCKET NEIGHBORHOODS
Climate change is largely recognized as the greatest threat of our time. Devastation to human life and health, biodiversity, and the future stability of our planet have been acknowledged by such parties as the World Health Organization, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Department of Defense, among others. Choosing to build pocket neighborhoods can positively impact our carbon emissions, our future, and the futures of generations to come.
Houses are typically close to one another in a pocket neighborhood, which creates an opportunity to reduce the amount of material required for each individual unit. Shared walls, as found in the townhouse or duplex model, reduce the exterior walls by one-third to one-half as compared to a single-family home. Sharing a wall makes it less expensive to heat your home in the winter because you and your neighbor are insulating one side of each other’s house. You still pay only for what you use; it will just cost less, both in utilities and in “operational carbon,” which in this case is the amount of carbon emitted to heat and cool your home.
Other high-impact factors in carbon reduction include low-carbon building materials. According to the US Green Building Council, the structural system of a building will “always comprise the largest source of embodied carbon” accounting for “up to 80%” of a building’s embodied carbon (Melton, 2019). Choosing to build with timber and light frame wood construction means your home is actually “carbon sequestering.” This means it inherently traps carbon within the material, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Concrete, on the other hand, is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions, so limiting its use is critical to reducing the overall carbon emissions associated with a project.
CLEAN ENERGY GENERATION
Another benefit of the pocket neighborhood is the potential for shared energy sources and systems. Financially, the pocket neighborhood is set up for efficiencies such as district heating and cooling, and district power generation. Systems should be evaluated based on site- and climate-specific factors, and could include geothermal, solar hot water, solar power, and wind power generation. Due to common interest and shared property, pocket neighborhoods can choose collectively to invest up-front in these kinds of efficiencies in exchange for much lower utility bills for the entire life of the neighborhood.
Pocket neighborhoods contribute to a level of densification which, urban designer Kit McCullough asserts, can support and “sustain small, local businesses” without sacrificing the “original character” of a neighborhood (Capos, 2020, par. 18). The result is what McCullough refers to the “20 Minute Neighborhood” in which most necessities, goods, and services are located within a 20-minute radius of a residential area. This density supports a healthy local economy, encourages and contributes to social interaction and community building, and reduces the carbon footprint of residents who now travel less by car and walk more as groceries, entertainment, and other necessities are nearby. Alleviating dependency on automobiles in turn reduces air and noise pollution, contributing to residents’ health and making public spaces more enjoyable.
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