Pocket Parks

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This playground in a 1935 New York tenement district illustrates the lack of and need for open green space for urban dwellers. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

As cities grew, urban land prices climbed and open space was at a premium, which made it difficult to create large parks, or even neighborhood parks, despite the desire to provide park space for residents. Creative approaches included pocket parks, parks built over roadways, and publicly accessible green space on private property.

Coined in the 1960s, the term “pocket parks” refers to small (generally smaller than a quarter of an acre), publicly accessible areas that often provide greenery, a place to sit outdoors, and sometimes a playground for children. They may be created on vacant building lots or as part of a large building development’s public space requirement.

One example is Freeway Park, which opened in 1976 in downtown Seattle, Washington. It links multiple small pockets of space to create an interesting park complex. The park extends over and around an interstate and large public parking lot, using fountains, greenery, and linked plazas to draw together neighborhoods previously divided by the freeway.