A Sydney-based landscape architect shares his views on the ‘pocket park’ and how with a little imagination and creativity small spaces can provide rich community experiences in the urban environment.
Chelsea Street Playground, East Redfern, winner of the 2016 AILA NSW Parks and Open Space Award.
A seemingly insignificant void or underused space in our urban landscape can provide enormous opportunity for the creation of positive community impact, according to Angus Bruce, Principal at HASSELL.
The trick is understanding how to determine its value; to tap into what is most meaningful for the community; to determine what it is that they crave, so that the space is embraced, used and loved.
With urbanisation, our cities become ever taller, tighter and ‘built out’, placing greater importance on the pocket park and those small open space interventions within our cities.
The ‘Edible Bus Stop’ on Landor Road in Stockwell, UK, was the first in a series of pocket parks erected as part of a government green initiative.
Be it respite, morning prayer, connection with nature, play, community gathering, exercise or contemplation, the significance of these spaces is growing, and their demand to achieve more at many levels is a basic criterion in the design of pocket parks.
In terms of scale, the pocket park, by definition, is pocket sized. It’s a ‘parklette’ - small in stature but addressing a multitude of community needs and functions. Pocket parks tend to utilise the land between buildings, those corners of development unable to be taken up as building volume, the small laneways and corner lots, the residual spaces at the junction of planning boundaries or re-lifed spaces that have missed the economic booms of better times. Be they within urban, suburban or a rural context, on private or public land, the scale of these parks remains small and this in itself generates a park typology and public amenity that links them together.
Paley Park in New York offers a small green retreat in a large concrete jungle.
These parklette-like spaces exist across many cities and whilst each city may vary in terms of culture, community makeup, setting, histories and spatial demands, the underlying theme for each pocket park is the same – urban relief.
A swing set, a small bench, children’s school bags strewn across the rubberised softfall. Some play whilst others gossip, laugh and share weekend stories before they commence their school-day learnings. Young parents with newborns rock prams and absorb the sunshine, unifying as a community and repeating the start of a generation of connection to the space.
Fresh fruit laid out on coloured plastic, fighting for space on a small expanse of grass, beneath the shade of large leafed trees. Construction workers take their morning tea break and office workers gather for a shared cigarette, whilst a small group of animated men debate strategy adjacent an oversized chess set, where two are competing against a portable clock stopwatch.
Skaters have laid claim to an unloved and forgotten corner. It's part art and part play. Walls, columns and surfaces are awash with colourful graffiti, unified as one, as both expression and ownership of the space. Youthful groups gather and watch the performance of skaters and bike riders, some adept in their manoeuvres and tricks, whilst others try and fail. It is a space for the user and the passerby - part play and showmanship, part city art and entertainment. There are no formal gardens or shade trees. It is not designed, but nonetheless, it is a pocket space that performs a much needed local use and is loved for it.
What is obvious is that no two pocket parks are alike in appearance, configuration, value and or program. They each work in their own way, connected through their scale, and what they offer a city and or community in terms of urban relief. They each offer a space for reflection and respite, a community hub where play, conversation, gathering and local engagement interconnect.
Some spaces tell stories of cultural interpretation and or historical expression, whilst others are working hard to help heal the landscape, our waterways or communities. Some are planned, designed and highly detailed whilst others are accidental, organic and temporary. They are both ‘hard' and 'soft’, programmed and unprogrammed, and many provide for art, play, discovery and learning.
They are all undeniably an essential part of our cities and communities. The ‘parklette’ has meaning and impact for communities because it is the communities who use, need, embrace and love these spaces. As landscape architects and designers, it is this that we need to remain focused on if we are to help determine the success of the urban pocket park.
By Angus Bruce via Sourceable