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Benefits of Green Space in an Urban Environment

In many urban communities, commercial and residential structures typically dominate the landscape, whereas green space for parks and other recreational amenities is often at a premium. As a result, workers and residents in the immediate area have few places to gather, relax, or enjoy the outdoors, while the physical and recreational needs of urban youth suffer, as well. To help fill this “green” void, communities are increasingly looking to convert abandoned spaces and unused areas into a pocket park design.

Pocket parks are small outdoor spaces, usually no more than a quarter of an acre in size that provides a quiet oasis for lunchtime workers or a pint-sized play area for children. These unique parks often take advantage of vacant lots, abandoned alleyways, and other forgotten and unused spaces. To avoid tax liabilities on unused or unneeded property, landowners and developers sometimes donate small parcels of land to municipalities or organizations with an understanding of the space to be used to create a pocket park.

Experience & Expert Planning Keys to Successful Pocket Park Designs

The design team with Snyder & Associates has been instrumental in the creation of several of these parks and has a full understanding of the key characteristics required to pull off a successful pocket park design. Foremost, these spaces must be accessible. Designers often achieve this through the elements they incorporate into the park. In the same vein, pocket parks also must be located in comfortable spots with a positive image that encourages people to meet, gather, and bring visitors. Finally, they should provide enough space for people to engage in small group or individual activities.

Designers have an extensive toolbox of features and elements available to incorporate into a pocket park design. These can include hard surfaces like paver walkways or simple concrete pathways to moveable furniture items, such as benches and tables. In some urban settings, water features are popular and are often used to dampen the noise of the surrounding city. Potted displays of annual plants are easy to maintain and change out for seasonal decorating. The creative options are nearly limitless and can be as simple or elaborate as necessary, with many incorporating “green” components.

Small Pocket Parks for Targeted Users

A critical distinction to note is that pocket parks shouldn’t strive to provide the same amenities as a much larger neighborhood or community park. Ideally, pocket parks should be designed with the needs of the nearby individuals and the interests of the local community in mind. This difference often leads community groups or other private organizations to spearhead these projects or provide funding (or a combination of both) to add green space to a specific neighborhood. Snyder & Associates can guide in identifying what amenities might be the most useful in each park to meet the needs of the targeted community and we can help develop an implementation strategy to bring the concept to life.


Snyder & Associates Case Study

Gallery Garden Pocket Park in Marshalltown Business District

pocket park seating area surrounded by plants

Gallery Garden Park
Photo Credit: Marshalltown Convention & Visitors Bureau

A chief example of our work developing pocket park designs is best shown by the Gallery Garden Park in Marshalltown, Iowa. Located just down the block from the iconic Orpheum Theater, this park was built on the site of a former historic building that was destroyed in a fire. Under new ownership, the now vacant lot was viewed as the prime location to create a mini-park for public use.

Snyder & Associates was brought on board to provide civil engineering and landscape architecture on this ambitious project. This elaborate space features not only tables and seating but also a sunken plaza with an evaporation pool and an elevated water fountain feature for noise masking. A vertical Live Wall garden is ringed by elevated planters around the perimeter and a large, steel pergola creates a shady space for relaxing.

As our professional landscape architect, Don Marner points out, this park also provided the opportunity to include “green” elements in the design and address stormwater issues that had plagued the area in the past.

“This project is very unique,” said Marner. “Rainwater is captured from the roof of the adjacent building, then stored in harvesting tanks that were buried on-site, then this water is pumped to service the central water fountain and irrigation of the Live Wall and landscape plantings. A water line is not part of the improvements, meaning all the water for the site comes from captured stormwater.” The further addition of permeable pavers and a bio-swale rain garden with native Iowa plantings also promote water infiltration.

Marner further identifies other sustainable features. “The pergola supports solar panels, which provide shade for the patio and also provides electricity for the central water fountain and lighting of the pocket park.” Producing roughly 7,000 watts of electricity, the 32 photovoltaic panels result in the park having a net-zero impact.

The green infrastructure elements included in our park master plan also resulted in the project receiving a grant. “The grant was secured from the Iowa Economic Development Authority,” said Marner. “The owner also paid to cover the cost, while the City of Marshalltown also participated, assisting with costs associated with storm sewer improvements in the parking lot.”

The Gallery Garden Park has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Marshalltown community. It provides a relaxing place for downtown shoppers to rest their weary feet, while local workers can take advantage of the serene space during a busy day to enjoy a quiet lunch. This beautiful mini-park has been incorporated into many community events and even exhibits public art displays throughout the year.

“This pocket park is privately-owned but available to the public,” said Marner. “The owners are very committed to downtown viability and the community and are extremely excited about how the community has embraced this project and space. I believe there will be more opportunities to recreate public space in downtown areas and this project is an example of how a successfully designed space can be an attraction and bring people together.”

The engineering team and landscape architects at Snyder & Associates pride themselves on leading the way with innovative and unique design concepts. The pocket park is just one more way we’re able to bring projects to life that improve the environment for our communities. Contact our experts today if you’d like industry-leading guidance for your next park project — big or small.

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