Four years ago, developer Dan Gainsboro flew to Seattle to view a cluster of cottage communities and talk with architect Ross Chapin, the designer of these pocket neighborhoods.
The cozy developments triggered his imagination: walkable streets, close proximity to transit, and smaller homes that create a sense of neighborhood.
Gainsboro, president of NOW Communities LLC of Concord, is turning his vision into reality, with the Concord Riverwalk project in Concord, a cluster of 13 two- and three-bedroom cottages and townhouses featuring shared gardens, walkways, and parking. This new neighborhood, Gainsboro’s first foray into sustainable development, was completed last year.
“For many, McMansions are losing their appeal,” said Gainsboro, 53.
“I wanted to create more thoughtful places to live where people have a sense of belonging, not isolation.”
What challenges did you face during the design and permitting of Concord Riverwalk?
Most zoning bylaws don’t contemplate cottage community developments, but favor large-acre remote sites. So it’s a matter of educating the planning board. The houses are 15 to 20 feet apart so these are tightly knit communities near the town center or train. Such closeness to your neighbors is probably not for everyone, but I believe it’s a model for a lot of development.
These are net-zero energy homes. What does that mean?
The homes are capable of producing as much renewable energy as they consume over the course of a year. They’re super-insulated, extremely airtight buildings. The homes have highly efficient pumps capable of heating and cooling the air and photovoltaic arrays that convert the sun’s energy into electricity.
How did you get interested in design and construction?
When I was 6 or 7 years old, I would go back into the backyard and imagine creating different buildings. Now that I’m grown up, the building part is straightforward. But I’m finding the social engineering element is challenging, understanding how to design a sense of place and purpose where people want to live.
How do you balance community and privacy?
The spaces are layered from private to public, so you can choose to interact with neighbors or not. The construction is more thoughtful, so no one is looking at a bathroom from the living room window, for example. There is a high probability for a serendipitous opportunity to bump into neighbors at the mailbox or community gardens, which are also added by design.
Is this the beginning of smart development communities throughout the state?
My vision is to do a half -dozen or more in the next five to 10 years.
You talked about placemaking — what are some special places for you?
One of them is the outdoor courtyard in the Boston Public Library. You feel in your bones that you are in a special place.
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at email@example.com.