It’s not unusual for some residential streets in L.A. to look a little like the burbs, with big houses, driveways, or garages in front, and only a handful of families living on a block. But as more people move to the city looking for a place to live—and not every neighborhood wants to add new high-rise apartments—one developer is championing the idea of "stealth density": Groups of houses that fit in with the older homes around them, but manage to cleverly fit in three times as many people.
The developer, LocalConstruct, is working with L.A. architect Barbara Bestor to turn a one-acre hillside lot in Echo Park into a demonstration of smarter growth. Six run-down houses on the lot are being replaced by 18 homes.
"We’re trying to set a precedent for this type of development," says Casey Lynch, one of LocalConstruct's co-founders. "We really feel there's a somewhat of a middle path in terms of density. We strongly believe that more density is good, especially in L.A.— but we want to do it in a sensitive way, especially in these older neighborhoods."
Unlike typical developments, the developers wanted to focus on bringing people together. Though most of the homes have some private outdoor space, like a roof deck or a small yard, they also all share a courtyard. Instead of individual garages or a parking lot, the development has something known as a "living street" behind the homes.
"It’s a single public space that accommodates multiple uses whether it’s parking, pedestrian uses, biking, or literally just standing there and having a conversation with your neighbor," says Lynch.
"Other developers might think we’re crazy—why would you build a house without a garage in L.A.?" he adds. "But when you pull up into this common space, it forces you to interact with the people around you, building community."
Without garages, there's also extra room. "A garage is always there, even if your car isn't," Lynch says. "Not building a garage translates into more space for the site. When your car's gone, it's open space that everyone can use."
Ultimately, he hopes that fewer people living there will want to drive at all. "Echo Park is kind of the hub of a pretty unique and creative part of L.A. right now. "Yeah, you need a car if you’re going to drive to Santa Monica, but you can walk down the street and you have this whole array of retail and dining amenities within walking and biking distance."
The small size of the homes—mostly 1,300 or 1,400 square feet rather than the usual 2,500-square-foot single-family home—helps keep them affordable, and fit in with what people in Echo Park want. "We know from living in these neighborhoods ourselves that people are comfortable living in a smaller living space," Lynch says. "And they get the green space that makes up for that."
The development is under construction now and will be ready early next year.