Portland Thinks Small

December 30, 2007

After nearly 100 years of wax and wane, it looks like the popularity of courtyard housing is on the upswing.

In an effort to keep families in the city limits and out of suburbia, Portland, Oregon, is looking to increase population density and a sense of community in a way that goes beyond the typical skyscraping condominium (the road that my own metropolis is taking of late). The Rose City just closed out its too-cool courtyard housing design competition, which entreated architects from across the country to create a pocket neighborhood — that is, a group of single-family residences situated around a public greenspace.

My own little place is one of ten cottages that surround a common courtyard, so, naturally, I’m biased. Beyond that, however, the concept of making home in a cozy house within a finite community is, of the essence, living small. It’s neighborly. In the summer, we sup on our back porches and chitchat about ceiling fans and our pets. A little New Urbanism, a little bungalow bunny.

Several cottage courts have cropped up in the Puget Sound region in recent years — from my little community, renovated in the early ’90s, to other more recent sets, such as Ross Chapin’s mini ‘hood in Langley, on Washington State’s Whidbey Island. While most of these nouveau courtyard collectives have that fresh-pressed, neo-Craftsman look, and while some of the units top 1,000 square feet (hardly “cottage-y”), they do maintain small footprints, and they do foster that bond that a common green provides. No harm, no foul, I suppose.

Now that Portland’s competition winners have been selected, the City plans to “facilitate built projects based on the winning designs.” We’ll see if the cottage court phenomenon catches fire again. Kudos to Portland for grabbing hold.

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3 Responses to “Portland Thinks Small”

  1. Wonderful blog! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. And thanks for the mention. It’s catching on: living small in a setting where nearby neighbors can know one another. Keep up the wordsmithing!

  2. Ross,

    Glad you enjoyed it. To you, as well: Keep up the cottage court projects! I’m ever-impressed with your work — particularly the “commons building” concept in Shoreline’s Greenwood Ave. cottages. All the best.

  3. […] 1, 2008 Follow-up to Portland Thinks Small: In today’s Design & Architecture section of TreeHugger, Lloyd Alter reports on the […]

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