There’s a movement going on in urban and suburban areas to bring parks closer to residents, improve unsightly abandoned lots and help people socialize.
They are called “Pocket Parks.”
The concept is a simple one and so is the process to build one.
All it takes is some dedicated citizens, assistance from the local parks and recreation department, donors and some elbow grease.
But the rewards can be plentiful.
Pocket parks are small, but benefits are huge
To get people fired up about the idea, let’s start with the benefits of pocket parks:
- Transforms a vacant lot, perhaps an eyesore, into a beautiful, relaxing place to gather.
- Improves surrounding property values. (The High Line in New York has generated billions in higher property values and new development. And that park is very narrow in places and built on abandoned elevated train tracks).
- Adds a visible amenity to the neighborhood, which makes it more appealing for those looking to buy a home there.
- Improves the health of local residents. As we pointed out in previous blogs, there is documented scientific proof that sitting on park benches or going for a stroll is beneficial to people’s health. Spending time in a park can reduce mental fatigue, lower stress, provide more Vitamin D from sunlight, improve moods and create an overall sense of well-being. Research shows just spending 20 minutes in a park will yield noticeable benefits. There are some doctors as part of ParkRX America who actually write prescriptions for their patients to spend more time in a park. The Japanese have a saying for the positive effects of being in a park. They call it “forest bathing.”
- Creates a social gathering. Add a few park benches to a pocket park and you immediately create a conduit for people in your neighborhood to meet and socialize. Helps neighbors meet other neighbors. How many times have you heard about people who don’t know the people who live on their street? In this day and age of computers, smartphones, streaming TV and video games, many people spend much of their time indoors. Because of that phenomenon, they may never get an opportunity to meet one-on-one with their neighbors. A park can fill that need. In fact, some parks in England have started installing what they refer to as “chat” benches. They take a park bench and add a sign to it, letting people know people sitting on that bench are willing to chat with others. What a great way to make friends! Another benefit would be to get children outdoors, away from their tablets and video games. Create a play area for them to breathe in some fresh air and make new friends.
- Makes a community safer. Adding a pocket park and revitalizing a vacant lot has shown to help reduce crime as well. For one, that abandoned lot may no longer be a place for people with bad intent to hang out. Secondly, with neighbors gathering outside, they can keep on eye on what is taking place on their street.
- Cleans the environment. Taking a rundown plot of land and adding bushes, shrubs, grass, and trees creates a source of oxygen and an engine to that pump clean air into an area. It might not be a huge amount, but it’s certainly better than asphalt or concrete. For example, according to one study, a mature sycamore tree about 12 meters tall can produce about 100 kilograms of oxygen per year. The average person breathes in about 740 kilograms of oxygen per year. More clean air is better than polluted air.
- Reduces driving and promotes walking. Adding a pocket park within a 10-minute walk for members of your neighborhood gives them a nice oasis to visit without getting in their car to drive to a park. This reduces pollution. Also, taking a stroll to a pleasing pocket park nearby is certainly beneficial to a person’s health.
- Aesthetics and Pride in the Community. This one doesn’t require much explanation. Certainly, every local resident would love to see a tree-filled lot with beautiful shrubbery and flowers, instead of a vacant dirty lot filled with old tires or trash. That’s certainly a positive feeling everyone will appreciate. In addition, just sprucing up a small plot of land can have a big effect by instilling pride in a community. That positive feeling could spill over and be a catalyst for residents to improve and maintain their properties. It’s certainly a win-win for everybody.
- Empowers local residents. You just created an appealing park out of nothing! Think about how that would make local residents feel as far as reinforcing in their minds that yes, they can make a difference in their town.
As you can see, the benefits of a pocket park can add up because of several reasons.
Now, what does it take to build one?
Simple checklist for creating a mini-park with park benches and plants
Creating a pocket park will initially take some work. But the benefits of a healthier, safer and more sociable neighborhood with increased property values, will pay off for years.
Here are a few recommendations on what it takes to create a pocket park, with the help of suggestions from the National Recreation and Park Association. (By the way, you can also use this list for creating a dog park with dog park equipment in your town as well).
- Create a group. As the saying goes, “If you want something done, do it yourself.” Parks and recreation departments are busy. They run on tight budgets. They have quite a bit of acreage to maintain. They run a lot of programs. If your neighborhood wants a pocket park, get your neighborhood and local citizens involved.
- Be sure there is a consensus. Let everyone in your neighborhood know about the possibility of adding a pocket park nearby. Get their reaction. There might be a large number of people who don’t want a pocket park, especially people who live near the proposed project. It’s best to uncover any opposition or concerns first.
- Find a site. Most pocket parks are small, about a quarter of an acre.
- Create a plan. What will you do with this land? What will the landscaping look like? Do you have gardeners in your community who might have some great ideas on the type of greenery that would do well on the particular site? What about amenities? Where can you place some park benches? Trash receptacles? Play area for children? Do you want to add some Outdoor Fitness Equipment?
- Maintenance. Before you get too gung-ho about building a pocket park, think long term and how that park will be maintained going forward. Outline the steps required to maintain the park. Perhaps if the list if too long, you need to rethink the types of plants you will add. Get a commitment from local citizens to help with the maintenance. Create a schedule. Local city officials and donors will probably want to see such as plan as well, so they know their money will be well spent.
- How to fund. Your town might kick up the funds to help build a pocket park. But generally, municipalities have tight budgets and work on larger projects that benefit more people. You might need a combination of funds from local residents, donations from local businesses, perhaps a grant or two, and maybe some money from the town as they do want to see more green spaces within their borders and fewer abandoned lots. Local civic groups, such as the Rotary and Lions clubs are a good source of funds too, since their purpose is to work on projects that improve the community. There are national entities such as the Trust for Public Lands and NRPA that might be able to help with funding. For businesses, find a way to promote the business in return for their donation. Perhaps add a plaque on your park benches with their name or a sign listing all the donors. Sell bricks with the sponsors name on them. You can also add a logo park bench thanking the Rotary or other civic groups as well.
- Approach town officials. Assemble a solid and detailed plan on how you plan to build a pocket park. Consult first with local park and recreation managers for guidance and ideas. Perhaps speak to your local representatives for your area. Bottom line, do your legwork before you approach any municipal council for approval or funding. The better prepared you are and the more people you can get to attend or support the meeting, the more the council members will listen to you.
- Schedule a workday. If you have a detailed plan and buy all the necessary items ahead of time, with a large group of dedicated people, you can work wonders transforming an empty lot into a beautiful little oasis in a short time. Maybe even just a day or two. Reach outside your neighborhood as well. Maybe the local Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts will help to get credit. Those Rotary and Lions club members are always eager to assist with community projects. Just be sure you have the projects organized, so everybody knows what to do and where.
- Have a ribbon-cutting. When the park is done, make a big day out of its opening. It’s certainly a positive project worth celebrating. Invite the neighborhood. Tell the local newspaper and TV stations. Invite your donors and city officials and thank them at the celebration. (They’ll love that).
- Keep that park clean and well-maintained. Like many projects, people get excited at first and then after a period of time, enthusiasm might drop off. Perhaps schedule an annual or semi-annual get together in the park to remind people of its value. Be sure to give recognition to the people who do spend their time working on the park. Maybe plan an upgrade. Add new plants. Another park bench. Maybe a fountain. There are several strategies you can use to give an old park a new life.
Sure, creating a pocket park with a few park benches, shrubs and trees can take some effort. But as we pointed out in the list above, after it is built, the benefits and the satisfying feeling of accomplishment will last a very long time.