Pocket Parks, Part I
We took a trip to Los Angeles this summer to celebrate my 50th. Any number of wonderful outdoor spaces abound. The park on Grand Avenue, for instance, was designed to be so flexible in use that the "furniture" of the park was super lightweight--you could see how people had hauled pieces around to create informal groupings of various sizes. Or take the third story garden of the Walt Disney Concert Hall-- honeybees surrounded by stainless steel! Of particular interest to me, however, were some very small spaces. Tucked into nooks between office buildings and housing, they seemed awfully small to be of any use in a city That Size.
Welcome to the Mini- or Pocket Park. In highly urban settings, like Los Angeles (or Beverly Hills, in the case of the image), a pocket park can be visual and mental relief from unrelenting acres of concrete that erupts vertically all around you. This mental relief manifests itself with a lowered pulse rate and other benefits. But why would it be useful for a city (of any size) to pursue a practice of pocket-park installations?
One way that pocket parks can be useful is to merely provide seating. In a town like Brevard, it is not unusual to find a man and his dog making use of benches along Main or Broad to relax while his wife/children/significant other is/are in nearby shops. Or, more importantly, to be able to consume his Kiwi Gelato without walking at the same time. Some of us have a problem with that.
Strategically, however, cities can make use of small park investments to encourage other types of community services. Small parks sprinkled amongst residential areas encourage greater physical activity for both adults and children, increasing community health. Amongst more commercial development, they provide spaces for people to gather for socializing, or, as in the example photo posted, eating lunch purchased off of a food truck. Pocket parks do not require parking spaces—bike racks may be the only “parking” necessary.
In distressed neighborhoods, or neighborhoods that have vacant lots, improving the vacant lots to the level of “park” status reduces the perceived risks of the neighborhood. Improvement can be in any number of directions: if members of a community want garden space, vacant lots can become community gardens. If members want a place for small children to safely play, it doesn’t take much space for a pre-school playground. In general, playgrounds or gardens of this variety should be within 5 or 10 minutes walking distance for residents. Even clearing out trash, grading and planting grass that is regularly maintained can be enough to get some social benefits for the community surrounding the green space.
Key qualities of successful pocket parks are 1) accessibility, 2) visual interest, 3) social promotion, and 4) ability to engage people in activities (specific to park placement/environment).
In Brevard, we think of our forests and the larger, natural “play ground,” and we may think we have no need for these smaller, internal parks. However, not only do good parks promote safe communities, they help conserve local wildlife, reduce pollution, improve fitness & health (by promoting walking/biking) and reinforce relationships between local authorities and communities.
Links of interest: