Last week the Rishi Sunak MP, Minister for Parks & Green Spaces, visited St Johns Church Yard on the South Bank in London. St Johns, which would count as a pocket park, has been actively supported by Friends of St John’s Churchyard over the years working with local partners and funders to provide not only a great oasis of green space in the city but healthy activity for many and routes to employment for some. His visit followed the recent announced an extra £2.75m for the government’s pocket park Programme. So when did pocket parks become so popular?
Well pocket parks aren’t new. Northamptonshire lays claim to inventing them in the 1980s although some say Paley Park in New York was the first deliberately designed pocket park. Nowadays pocket parks even have their own Wikipedia Page. What is clear is that over the last 20 years they have become a familiar feature of most cities as populations grow, housing densities increase and the pressure on green spaces intensifies. Cities across the world now rely on pocket parks to provide much needed access to green space (and all its benefits) for their growing urban populations. Resilience and sustainability are the watchwords for these cities as they struggle with the increasing social, economic and impact on their infrastructure whether it be Santiago in Chile or Brussels in Belgium. London’s first floating pocket park in has just won awards from British Association Landscape Institute and the Society of Garden Designers.
Research continues to demonstrate that they can have wide ranging benefits from reducing crime and improving health to building social capital, enhancing biodiversity, reducing pollution and mitigating climate change. It is these attributes that are recognised by leading cities that see pocket parks as essential elements of their green infrastructure, strategically linking them together as important contributors to maintaining their natural and social capital. It is perhaps their human scale that is their most important feature. Put two strangers in an empty railway carriage and they probably won’t converse – put two strangers in the back of a cab and they almost definitely will!