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Keeping It in the Neighborhood: How Pocket Neighborhoods Keep Seniors More Connected

Keeping It in the Neighborhood: How Pocket Neighborhoods Keep Seniors More Connected
May 23, 2019


With a growing senior population – and the “Boomer” generation coming of age – those spearheading innovative efforts in senior living find themselves at an intersection of providing design that allows for both enhanced care and encourages social connection. Bernardon’s senior living design team has a few solutions up their sleeves as well…or in this case in their pocket. Bad puns aside, utilizing the concept of pocket neighborhoods is an excellent solution for this growing population.

By definition, a pocket neighborhood is a planned community featuring single-family homes or duplexes; these homes are usually built at a smaller scale and are constructed around a centralized element, which could be a garden, courtyard, community center, or a wellness facility. And although a relatively recent concept (the first pocket neighborhood was developed in 1995), pocket neighborhoods are essentially a new twist on an old idea: their design resembles the neighborhoods that many in the Boomer and senior populations grew up in during the mid-20th century.

In addition to the familiarity of design, pocket neighborhoods offer the resident greater autonomy while still providing higher levels of passive security, and encouraging healthier lifestyles and stronger social interaction. So how do pocket neighborhoods foster this environment of greater engagement? There are a few key factors to their design that sets them apart from traditional, independent senior living communities.

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Creating an Engaging Environment

As the saying goes: “Location, location, location.” Where you live, work, and play matters to quality of life, and when it comes to pocket neighborhood design, the saying might as well be: “Scale, scale, scale.”

Scale is so important when it comes to fostering an environment that’s socially accessible. While our communities have shifted to large-scale living over the decades, the desire to restore small-scale communities is back on the rise. Feelings of isolation, lack of support, and the general stressors of living in our large-scale world are starting to affect the living preferences of seniors and are generating the desire for a more close-knit community.

Pocket neighborhoods provide a way to address the issue of scale by creating a community rooted in walkability. Through a spatial concept known as “defensible space” we limit the reliance on cars, and increase the walkability throughout the neighborhood. By creating a perimeter where vehicles can access the area, and keep the center core as purely pedestrian accessible, residents are able to take advantage of the walkable space and still maintain a sense of privacy in their respective homes. Through this “defensible space” concept, residents can converse in the public commons area, or remain on their property, maybe on the porch or driveway, and still interact with passersby. Or, if they prefer, they can take advantage of the privacy of their home.

Differentiating the public and street area versus private garden area its reflected in the design of the home itself. By placing the primary living space towards the front on the garden side of the homes, we’re able to create more connection with outdoor living spaces. This can be accomplished through a small, private garden area inside the home, perhaps a sunroom in the kitchen or porch area, with a larger public garden area located right outside. This also creates a seamless transition from the inside to outside, and offers the resident the choice to stay in the private garden area or venture out to the public outdoor space. This choice creates an opportunity to socialize by walking by other private garden spaces to get to public spaces.

View 6 final^ resizedThe concept of defensible space is drawn from mid-20th century design where the garage was located in the back of the house, and people gathered on their front porch or in the street to socialize and discuss the happenings of the day. Today, in many single-family homes, the garage is usually situated towards the front of the house with the driveway and garage being the most prominent part of the house. This shift to a car-centric lifestyle has also changed our social involvement with our communities. We’ve become more private through lack of visual or direct contact on the street. The days of congregating on the front porch or even playing out in the street are few and far between. Incorporating the pocket neighborhood layout limits the possibility of vehicular interaction and reinforces pedestrian involvement which creates a safer, more sociable, environment.

What We’re Doing

Bernardon has a proven track record of providing architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture services to Life Care Communities in the Greater Philadelphia area. Our interest in utilizing pocket neighborhood design combined with our breadth of experience equips us with the ability to help these Communities provide innovate spaces for residents to live, work, and play.

Whether a Community has been facing challenges related to an aging campus, local competition, or simply want to incorporate nearby land into an existing campus, our design team strives to create a sense of community for independent living seniors through the pocket neighborhood concept.

Not only are pocket neighborhoods a solid design solution for Life Care Communities, but they provide seniors with an opportunity to maintain their sense of independence and enjoy a safe and secure suburban lifestyle. For those who are older but still active, social, and independent, pocket neighborhoods offer a wonderful living option that’s an alternative to the traditional retirement home and apartments.


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