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DU professor creates micro-village in Denver area

Trisha Becker-Hafnor is no ordinary type. By society’s standards, the assistant professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work has achieved the American dream – a single-family home in the suburbs. But for Becker-Hafnor, his big dream turned out to be much smaller.

For two years, Becker-Hafnor lived with her husband in a cookie-cutter housing estate in Aurora. Each day passed without much connection. They walked in and out of the house, blending into the surroundings of their neighborhood. The isolation is intentional, she says, in part because American suburbs prioritize privacy and cars. Even the largest entrance to the house, the garage, is not designed for people.

“They’re designed for cars to drive in and out,” says Becker-Hafnor. “You can close your garage and never make eye contact with another person, and many do.”

Everything changed when Becker-Hafnor found out she was pregnant. They yearned for more than the suburbs could offer. They went looking for a village, and they found one.

From 2,200 square feet to 1,100 square feet, they realized that bigger isn’t always better. Instead of big houses with vacant spaces, they want smaller houses full of people. After years of ARIA cohabitation, Becker-Hafnor pursued her own dreams on Chase Street in Wheat Ridge.

She walked past the property and saw two structures: a house and a small cottage. But it was not for sale. She obsessed over it for a few months, always passing it by. One day she struck up a conversation with the owner.

“She said to me, ‘I lived here for 40 years, but I have to sell it next month. I’m too old to take care of it anymore,’ Becker-Hafnor says.

Becker-Hafnor and her husband bought the property to share with her mother and grandmother, but their vision didn’t stop there. They are turning it into a micro village called Chase Street Commons.

It is the antithesis of a typical American subdivision. With cars on the outskirts, it’s designed for you to park and then walk home. The houses will be designed to face each other.

“When you’re sitting on your patio, you’re going to see someone else,” says Becker-Hafnor. “We are removing a driveway that runs through the center of the property and providing green space for the children to run around, so they can move from house to house. The heart of the property is a space where people go to meet.

Currently there are two houses on the property. They hope to add three more small houses, each around 1,000 square feet. Chase Street Commons is also making the payment model more accessible. There is no down payment for the land, only the structure. While the rezoning process with the town of Wheat Ridge is tricky, it continues to win support from its neighbors.

“We are not developers,” she says. “We don’t make a profit. It’s just immoral to have all that unused space,” she says. “I believe that increasing housing density is a way to increase affordability.”

Becker-Hafnor hopes to influence more than the Denver community. As executive director of the United States Cohousing Association, she hopes to influence policy nationally.

“I dream that there is a micro village on every block,” she laughs. “I’m just trying to build a movement where people find ways to live together and live more connected lives.”

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