What Are Pocket Parks? 5 Incredible Transformations of Unused Land Plots

 

Urban community leaders are transforming empty spaces into mini-recreational parks. Primarily created in inner-city areas, and often a product of an area’s plans for urban regeneration, pocket parks provide a safe and welcoming place of temporary escape for locals who frequent them. 

...pocket parks provide a safe and welcoming place of temporary escape for locals who frequent them. Click To Tweet

Also known as “vest-pocket parks,” a term coined in the 1960s, the first-ever parks in history were developed in response to the lack of park space available in urban areas. 

Residents leverage their local pocket parks for a number of social activities–including intimate events, playdates, and low-key outings with friends and family. You’ll even see individuals who work (or attend school) nearby frequenting these spaces for lunch breaks and study time. 

Residents leverage their local pocket parks for a number of social activities–including intimate events, playdates, and low-key outings with friends and family. Click To Tweet

Rotary Centennial Park is just one of many pocket parks in the world, located in Long Beach, California. The park opened to the public in 2005 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Rotary International.  The Long Beach Rotary Club, the oldest of its kind in the area and one of the top 50 biggest rotary clubs worldwide, had a major hand in its development. (Image Source: City of Long Beach)

Rotary Centennial Park in Long Beach, Ca

The Long Beach Rotary Club raised a total of $100,000 before kicking off the design and construction of the 1.2-acre park, located between Junipero Avenue and the Pacific Coast Highway. 

To involve the community, the Rotary Club sought input from key stakeholders in the community while the park was in development. To this day, The Long Beach Rotary Club still contributes to the maintenance and upkeep of the park.

“Rotary Park is an outstanding example of a public-private partnership that has truly benefited our community,” former Long Beach City Council member Patrick O’Donnell reported to Western City. “The Long Beach Rotary Club has demonstrated unparalleled levels of dedication and commitment to the park, creating a beautiful recreation area and sense of neighborhood pride.” This park wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the support of the community. 

Pocketparks, a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization, recently hosted a pop-up pocket park on the corner of North 10th and Locust St. The venue? DUC Park, a newly developed pocket park in downtown St. Louis, that is now a permanent fixture of the community. The project was spearheaded by Pocketparks founder and president, Samantha Lee Smugala. (Image Source: Google Maps, Pocketparks)

DUC Park (still under development) in St. Louis, MO

Like many individuals who play a role in the development of a local pocket park, Lee and her counterparts are aiming to build multiple around the entire city, solving St. Louis’s “big vacancy problem” in the process, as she reported to KDSK

In October of this year, the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement District awarded a $10,000 grant to the Pocketparks organization, to help them further the development of the park. Smugala made this statement in response: “We’re excited to continue our work at this park to elevate the park experience, and therefore the downtown experience.”

Pocket parks have a long history that extends beyond the 21st century. In the 1920s, a pocket park that doubles as a mini-garden made its debut in the Denmark area. Located near The National Archives in Copenhagen, The Royal Library Garden serves as a “reflective garden” for many locals. While there, visitors can enjoy the soothing sounds of water falling at a key centerpiece of the garden–a fairly tall water fountain.  (Image Source: Visit Copenhagen)

Royal Library Garden in Copenhagen, Denmark

Greenacre Park sits in one of the busiest areas of New York City–Midtown Manhattan. Founded and privately funded by Abby Rockefeller Mauze’s Greenacre Foundation, the pocket park opened in 1971. This beautiful, three-level park is a utopia all on its own. Furthermore, it features a 25-foot waterfall, the sweet smell of honey locust trees, and mobile tables and chairs.  (Image source: Greenacre Park)

Greenacre Park in NY, NY

Sasaki, Dawson, & DeMay Associates, an architecture and landscaping design firm, designed the intimate space with passerby New Yorkers in mind. This pocket park truly makes for an unforgettable urban experience on each visit. It gained so much popularity that it was featured in the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. 

This pocket park truly makes for an unforgettable urban experience on each visit. Click To Tweet

“My great council member (Keith Powers) and I are keenly aware of the importance of smart urban planning so that we actually have a combination of densely populated urban areas with open spaces and green and places where children can play, seniors can sit, and we can breathe,” NY State Senator Liz Krueger proudly acknowledged at the dedication ceremony.

At the event, Patch.com reported Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey stating, “This beautiful park delivers a connection that builds social bonds with families, friends, and community.” 

This beautiful park delivers a connection that builds social bonds with families, friends, and community. — @PTNY Click To Tweet

In an effort to promote a safer environment (and increase positive activity) in the densely populated Riverside neighborhood community of Cambridge, Franklin Street Park opened to the public in 2003. The Cambridge Community Development Department took it upon themselves to renovate the previously unused park that it replaced, aiming to recreate it into a mini-urban sanctuary. 

Franklin Street Park in Cambridge, MA

Franklin Street Park has become a “go-to” for locals since its opening. In fact, the design of the park made such an impression on the American Society of Landscape Architect magazine, that it received the “Editor’s Choice” award in 2004. From its granite entrance gate to that mysterious metal dome at the back of the park, it’s the perfect space for an afternoon getaway.

Fairmont Triangle Park (pre-construction) in Jersey City, NJ

In addition to these completed transformations, Jersey City is in the midst of its own Pavement-to-Park project. Fairmont Triangle Park broke ground in May 2021 after they were awarded the Made to Move grant from Degree and Blue Zones. The grant funded community engagement, the demonstration project and materials, and the installation of permanent elements for the park project. We’re excited to see the full transformation and witness their vision take shape. See the renderings above and below and read the full case study here.


 

Johnaé De Felicis is a writer and wellness junkie from California. Her work appears in Healthline, among others, and she covers wellness topics from mental health to natural living.

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