Biophilic design and increased plantations within our built environment is known to increase wellbeing. Studies show that being close to nature can boost productivity and physical and mental health, so shouldn’t we be trying to create green interventions wherever possible?

The UNSW School of Built Environment at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture seems to think so. Pocket parks, miniature sized parks equipped with seating, plants and shade are sometimes an afterthought made by developers, architects and councils, but UNSW studies indicate quality of life considerably improves with the implementation of pocket parks. 

“One of the issues from an urban liveability perspective is that with increasing population density, we need more public space,” says UNSW urban design and landscape architecture Senior Lecturer, Mike Harris.

“These pocket parks are a terrific opportunity to answer that problem and to provide public space for the local community where previously there may not have been any.”

Across Sydney, pocket parks are being created in smaller spaces not previously considered for green space. While local governments may look to purchase land unable to be developed, UNSW PhD candidate Ela Glogowska says reclaiming portions of the street is the way to go.

“The city has big public gestures like Centennial Park, but it wasn’t master planned to have many smaller parks in its subdivisions,” she says. 

“So, it’s no surprise that today we have a massive deficit of accessible public socialising areas.”

Harris says that unlike one large-scale park, several smaller pocket parks can be inserted strategically throughout a neighbourhood to help increase accessibility and usage of public space, providing more greenery and tree cover seldom able to be made possible.

pocket parks

“The idea behind pocket parks is to get more out of the space we have in cities, and the ideal place in the existing public domain is our street network,” he says. 

“Usually, that’s a closure to cars and converting a small portion of the street into a useable recreational space that the whole community can enjoy.”

“The amount of public space is essential, and we do still need our large public commons, but distribution and proximity are just as important Having more of these smaller pocket parks can make accessing public space more incidental and a part of daily life, rather than an event you must plan for and go out of your way to access.”

Pocket parks are not all one and the same, with each serving an individual need of the community. While pocket parks in a town centre may comprise more seating, a residential type may feature play equipment.

Harris says that pocket parks have a role to play in mitigating urban heat effects.

“Our urban areas are getting hotter, and we know one of the ways we can mitigate against that is through trees that have a cooling effect. Pocket parks can help us find additional space to develop and expand the canopy cover for our cities.”

Glogowska agrees. 

“We must consider public spaces as social infrastructure and value them in terms of their wellbeing benefits,” she says.

“If we want a healthy and happy society, we need a diversity of quality public spaces for the public to enjoy, and more pocket parks will certainly contribute to that.”