Head Butler encourages us to think in a new direction

Jesse Kornbluth is DP’s guest blogger today. His ever-brilliant Head Butler post focuses on Ross Chapin’s book about Pocket Neighborhoods, and the ideas Jesse shares on the subject are resonant and vital.  Especially now. Anyone who drives the roads of the Hampton’s sees the Joe Farrell signs growing more prevalent.  I see on a daily basis, more large scale development with super sized houses going up.  Chapin presents us with a concept that’s the antithesis to what prevails in most of the USA.  Thank you, Jesse, for doing what you do so well, and so often: Leading us with your words, to think just a little more carefully about who we are, and what we do.

Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World, by Ross Chapin

Head Butler post By JESSE KORNBLUTH  Published: Jun 23, 2014

$1.7 trillion in the coffers of American corporations, not being invested, not creating jobs, not strengthening infrastructure, just making money for owners who have basically abandoned any obligations as citizens. Banks paying billions in fines for the privilege of keeping billions more. The environment. Gridlock. It’s too grim to think about. So. mostly, we don’t. Privately, not yet sharing our fears with others, we think: The empire may be failing, but I still have to live. Is there any way I can live appropriately, in harmony with the planet? And is there some way I can feel less… lonely? Ross Chapin, an architect who lives in a town of 1,000 on Whidbey Island, Washington, started thinking about a more humane way to live in the 1980s. And he came up with a solution. It was not, as he writes, a new solution: Humans are gregarious — we like to live around others. We also have a desire — and perhaps a need — for personal space. Sometime in the last generation, however, we became so charmed with the dream of a ‘house of one’s own’ that we overshot our desire for privacy, leaving us marooned on our own personal island in a sea of houses… A picture began formulating in my mind that was like the Russian nesting dolls…. pocket neighborhoods. What is a pocket neighborhood? A clustered group of neighboring houses or apartments gathered around a shared open space — a garden courtyard, a pedestrian street, a series of joined backyards, or a reclaimed alley — all of which have a clear sense of territory and shared stewardship. This is a delicious concept. Like the Mini Cooper, Chapin suggests: “small, sensual, well-engineered and reliable.” Exciting to read about. Great to look at. Important as an idea. And, if you’re up for it, a life-changer. [To buy “Pocket Neighborhoods” from Amazon, click here.] In 1996, Chapin built his first pocket neighborhood: the Third Street Cottages in the town where he lives. Just a sprinkling of homes. But not 2-story houses. One-and-a-half story cottages. Most about 650 square feet, with lofts up to 200 square feet. 
To ensure privacy between neighbors, the cottages ‘nest’ together: the ‘open’ side of one house faces the ‘closed’ side of the next. You could say the houses are spooning! The open side has large windows facing its side yard (which extends to the face of neighboring house), while the closed side has high windows and skylights. The result is that neighbors do not peer into one another’s world. At the same time, there’s no way to hide — you have a front porch. A carefully designed porch. The railings are low, so you can sit and see the sidewalk. And so passersby can see you. Stop and chat? Has to happen. Watch unsupervised kids at play? You are the neighborhood cop. “Pocket Neighborhoods” has a rich history, and Chapin gives the guided tour. Almshouses in the Netherlands. A Methodists Camp Community on Martha’s Vineyard. Southern California Cottage Courtyards. New Urban communities. Co-housing. Interesting stuff. If you are single and not a collector, this is a book for you. If you’re young marrieds and don’t want a McMansion, this is for you. A small family, maybe. Boomers with grown children, for sure. Seniors, definitely. Bill Gates, whose current home fills 60,000 square feet? I think not.

citizenM: A Hotel For The Global Citizen Where the Traditional Hospitality Model Is tweaked, just enough

citizenM, the recently opened ( to rave reviews)  hotel, has changed  Times Square forever. Its vibe is part Northern European and part Northern California. Yes, it’s that hip and high tech; comfortable and high touch. Literally. From the moment you check in; operative word, YOU– meaning, you check yourself in. It’s easy: simply insert your credit card into their system, out pops your room key card. This all takes place around a kiosk with pretty spectacular lighting overhead, lots of color, and an energy that is, just, different. No worries, there are plenty of citizenM employees eager to assist if you’re feeling too weary from traveling to focus on technology.

The staff call themselves “citizens” too, (citizen Alex, for example, helped me) and they are the nicest, most helpful, and friendliest group of hotel folks I’ve encountered in New York City in a long time. The  European based company has brought something special to NYC, and I for one, applaud them. Soon, they’ll open their second outpost in the Bowery, and I can’t wait to stay there.

The brand was born in Amsterdam, and now has  hotels in  London, Glasgow, Paris and Rotterdam. This is the first in the USA.

How can you not love a hotel that declares: “Our rooms bring you free wifi, and free movies, so you’ll, feel, well, freer.”  Yes that’s the idea.

I  found other things to love, too: The (fast) elevator, with its fun to look at mural -a black and white photo of faces at the beach.

I loved my room, which I thought of  as my “capsule.” And that’s a good thing. To me it meant, yes, small, but playful, fun. It was a long narrow space with the width of the room measuring  the length of a king size bed, which is placed against a large window at the end of the room. LOVE THAT VIEW of skyscrapers as I gaze from my wide window. No burdensome codes to enter into your laptop, just operate everything in your room- and I mean everything- from raising the blinds, to raising the temperature, turning on the lights and TV, all with one simple tablet that sits by your bedside.

The cool, modern design of the lobby offers an abundance of visual candy for the visitor to take in. While the rooms are simple, pared down and all you need is there.

Ah, the bed, everyone loves the bed! It’s fantastically comfy with crisp white sheets.

I loved the rain shower in the sleek, smoked glass shower, which is like a cylindrical chamber. It’s addictive.

I loved the warm buttery croissants in the “canteen” (the citizenM restaurant)  found every morning, with giant bowls of yogurt and fresh fruit.

I loved the cool baristas who graciously made me beautiful foamy cappuccinos.

I loved that I could go downstairs for dinner, help myself to the buffet style spread that was available in the canteen. The informality of it, the long communal tables, where all of us tired souls sat, each doing whatever we wanted. It did, indeed, feel freer.

For those who live in NYC, I  recommend a ‘staycation’ at citizenM. On the next hot sticky, too humid, weekend,  when your own apartment is just too uncomfortable; book a room, head over to the hotel, plant yourself on that fabulous bed, after you’ve chilled down in that rain shower. Then, in one touch on your tablet, watch movies and crank up the AC.