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Pocket Parks – the future of urban parks & playgrounds?

We’ve all heard the saying that, “bigger is better.” When it comes to designing parks and playgrounds, we know that the more room you have the more fun you can pack into the space allowed; but what do you do when there’s limited space and you still need to create an attractive and engaging place for local residents to enjoy, despite its smaller footprint? One potential solution is the pocket park. Never heard of it? Allow us to introduce you to it.

A small school yard from Paris, France with Vertical Maze play equipment.

Pocket parks

Pocket parks, or otherwise referred to as mini-parks or parkettes, are small parks that are commonly accessible to the public. First popping up in Europe after World War II, pocket parks were built more because of the scarcity of available resources, and not so much for their chic or design aesthetics. With many larger cities experiencing a rebuilding and reconstruction phase, building materials, funding and available labor was limited. As such, many of these cities did the best to dig out of the rubble and constructed small public parks in an effort to rejuvenate their neighborhoods and to harken back to their more peaceful pasts. By the time the 1950s rolled around, pocket parks had made the jump across the Atlantic and began to pop up in larger cities up and down the east coast, like New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. The smaller costs associated with these projects made them very attractive to communities and provided their residents with a petite oasis of tranquility and relaxation. 


A small nature play playground next to a street in Australia
A small nature play playground next to a street in Australia.

Small parks designed for the users

Pocket parks can be specifically planned or sometimes just happen as a happy coincidence. Abandoned, irregularly shaped lots are great candidates for these miniature masterpieces of landscape architecture, with many providing the ideal setting for local relaxation and enjoyment. Due to their small size, pocket parks are more often than not intended to serve a rather hyperlocal population and purpose than a more sprawling park. A pocket park in a business district may cater more to users as a place for them to enjoy their lunch or breaks at a variety of tables and benches, whereas a residential area’s pocket park may focus more on the children in the surrounding area and providing them with a structure upon which to play. It’s common, when taking these things into account, then for a pocket park to oftentimes receive a good amount of input and feedback from the would-be users; providing them with a say in what they want in their pocket park and how they want it to be configured.

A small park in the middle of Krakow, Poland.

A green oasis in an urban environment

In addition to the social benefits, pocket parks also can provide ecological benefits; creating a green space or a sort of buffer zone that separates itself from the surrounding environment. It’s not uncommon to see small ecosystems develop and thrive within pocket parks, often attracting a variety of urban wildlife. Although they may be typically intended for human use, these pocket parks can often create a secure and welcoming setting for birds and other creatures. They also can also relieve the environmental stress that is placed on larger parks, by helping to ease overcrowding.

Outdoor gym under railway in Melbourne, Australia.

Pocket parks are trending

Although they aren’t technically a new product within the commercial park and playground industry, pocket parks are certainly trending in an upward direction. Their environmental benefits, economic potential to attract new businesses and residents and positive public health image has many city planners and landscape architects buzzing at the thought of creating a niche setting that is perfectly designed and constructed with the needs of its local users in mind.  With so many possibilities and potential, it’s easy to see why pocket parks are on the up-swing across many urban centers of the world.  

References
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