Making public space more accessible
Pocket parks often pop up in dense urban areas where space for larger public parks is both costly and limited. For example, in Sydney, many already exist around the inner west, and more are under construction in the eastern suburbs, where smaller public spaces weren’t historically considered in planning regulations.
“The city has big public gestures like Centennial Park, but it wasn’t master planned to have many smaller parks in its subdivisions,” says Ela Glogowska, architect and PhD candidate at the School of Built Environment researching the history of public space in Sydney. “So, it’s no surprise that today we have a massive deficit of accessible public socialising areas.”
Most pocket parks are created opportunistically by repurposing underutilised land without undertaking large-scale redevelopment. In some cases, local governments may purchase an existing lot of land, usually dilapidated or unsuitable for commercial development, to replace it with a park. But the simpler way is to reclaim a portion of the street.
“The idea behind pocket parks is to get more out of the space we have in cities, and the ideal place in the existing public domain is our street network,” Dr Harris says. “Usually, that’s a closure to cars and converting a small portion of the street into a useable recreational space that the whole community can enjoy.”
Unlike one large-scale park, several smaller pocket parks can be inserted strategically throughout a neighbourhood to help increase accessibility and usage of public space.
“The amount of public space is essential, and we do still need our large public commons, but distribution and proximity are just as important,“ Dr Harris says. “Having more of these smaller pocket parks can make accessing public space more incidental and a part of daily life, rather than an event you must plan for and go out of your way to access.”
“Having more open and accessible public spaces for residents plays an essential role in building a sense of community,” Ms Glogowska says. “These are the places where people bond, interact and enjoy life, which is why we want to live in cities in the first place.”