While not everyone would enjoy sharing yards and other common spaces, architect Ross Chapin says it is “how we are wired” as humans.

A noted architect and author who specializes in pocket neighborhoods will give a presentation at the Sitka Performing Arts Center this evening (7 p.m. Tuesday, June 8).

Ross Chapin has spent the last two decades of his career focused on pocket neighborhoods ranging in size from a half-dozen to hundreds of houses.

Chapin describes a pocket neighborhood as a “neighborhood within a neighborhood.” They are clusters of smaller homes that have shared common areas, such as yards and gardens.

Chapin says pocket neighborhoods are the way human cultures have lived for most of our 200,000-year history.

“It’s only been in recent times that we’ve lived in separate single family, mom, dad and kids houses that are disconnected to anyone else except by car,” Chapin said. “So what I’m doing is bringing back something that is very akin to what we’re wired for. But what we don’t see often because we’re designing and developing for the scale of economy, which is important. But oftentimes, without listening to what the scale of community, the scale of sociability is.”

Chapin has been retained by the group of families who purchased the former Sitka Presbyterian Church and adjacent property, with an eye toward adapting it as a pocket neighborhood. He’s in Sitka this week meeting with the local Planning Department and getting a feel for the community — which is not too different from his home on Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound.

Chapin believes that a pocket neighborhood can be part of the solution to affordability and availability in Sitka — and the former church building can play a unique role in the development of the site, and retain its original character.

“We’re not going to try to imprint something that doesn’t fit,” said Chapin.  “We are looking at this church, which is just a tremendous community, historic building and asset. And I think there will be an aspect of it that will continue to serve the wider community, but also serve the local community.”