Small is beautiful

In order to increase the quality of life in cities, it is not necessary to make major investments or interventions. During the past years unloved spaces in London were transformed into ‘Pocket Parks’ – tennis court sized green retreats for local neighbourhoods to enjoy.

A pocket park (also known as a parkette, mini-park, vest-pocket park or vesty park) is, according to Wikipedia, a small park accessible to the general public. They are frequently created on a single vacant building lot or on small, irregular pieces of land. They also may be created as a component of the public space requirement of large building projects.

Leake Street Pocket Park. Source: Love Lambeth

From 2013 till 2015 the Mayor of London has been calling on volunteers and community groups to apply for grants (a total of £2 million). The prospectus says: "The possibilities are endless. We’re looking to you to impress us with practical, innovative and exciting ideas for pocket parks in your local area."
The Pocket Parks are part of the Mayor’s London’s Great Outdoors - the programme to improve streets, squares, parks, and canal and riverside spaces across London. The goal of the Pocket Parks is to support community groups in creating better quality spaces, providing people with opportunities for coming together, relaxing and playing; for healthy living, food growing and a little more contact with nature. In brief: placemaking!

Benton Play Park. Before & After. Source: Projectdirt
 Approximately 100 spaces have been selected for funding and have been developed in 26 London boroughs. These spaces have trees and greenery; they are open to all; they have places to sit and relax and for people to come together.
They are realized by volunteers, constituted community groups and organisations as Groundwork and Streetscape. Groundwork is a national charity that works with communities across the UK supporting them to create better places, live and work in a greener, more sustainable way and to improve their economic prospects. Streetscape is an award winning social enterprise that provides apprenticeships in landscape gardening to 18-25 year olds who are long-term unemployed. In their guidance they describe Pocket Parks as small spaces in the public realm that can be greened to offer an area for rest or recreation. "They can range from the traditional town centre greens, to making better use of unusual spaces, such as underused parking spaces, roof tops, canal banks, or uninspiring green spaces associated with bus stops or road junctions. Pocket parks can also be created as meanwhile spaces giving a temporary use to an otherwise underutilised piece of land, perhaps in the early stages of the development process. They can be often be created at relatively low cost and with short delivery times". They also describe the key principals:
  • Publically accessible
  • Provide opportunity for local communities to enjoy outdoor space   
  • Encourage healthy living   
  • Help build social cohesion through providing opportunity for community gardening
  • Recreation
  • Volunteering   
  • Foster the idea of shared space
In this short film you can see some of the Pocket Park transformations:

Some of the parks have made videos to illustrate the process that they went through, from design to completion: West Green Road Pocket Park, Vauxhall Walk Pocket Park, Lamlash Street Pocket Park and ecoACTIVE Pocket Parks

Photo 1: Dalston Eastern Curve community garden. Made by Gerben Helleman