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LA tests Dutch/Japanese pocket communities. Skeptics like it

When Barbara Bestor was tasked with turning 5 mostly-abandoned lots into 18 homes in LA’s Echo Park, she knew the neighborhood opposition to multi-family units so she performed “stealth density” by crafting duplexes and triplexes that look like single-family homes.

To comply with LA’s Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance, Bestor left a sliver of space between the homes so while two homes appear to be one, there is actually a 6-inch gap between them covered by waterproofing. This gap isn’t just aesthetic, but also allows the units to be classified as homes, not condominiums, so owners own the land and can have individual mortgages.

All the homes face an interior communal plaza, a “living street”, where people can gather and even barbecue. All kitchens face the courtyard to encourage day-to-day interactions (even if just visual). The resulting subdivision – 9 structures containing 18 individual homes – is called “Blackbirds”, referencing a community of birds gathered around a pool of water.

Using commercial storefront windows, Bestor was able to create living spaces that feel like treehouses for a fraction of the cost of conventional glass. She differentiated the houses by alternating the cladding between white metal standing-seam and black fiber-cement board.

“What’s nice about projects like this, explains Bestor, “they show ways that you could have density that people are like ‘I would live there’ as opposed to the more generic developer supermaxed thing which isn’t necessarily improving a neighborhood as much as it could. I guess I’m technically a YIMBY so why not add a bit of design time to make a better community building”.