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Natural Awakenings National

Pocket Parks: Mini-Parks and Plazas Invite Passersby to Pause Awhile

Space for urban parks is increasingly popping up in unexpected, underused and under-appreciated places. Planters, public art and benches are transforming traffic lanes, parking lots, barren asphalt areas and street parking into parklets and plazas, offering restful, green spaces. Such “shoehorn parks” also serve as inviting social spaces. The trend of such use of leftover space is sparking compelling discussion in Landscape Architecture Magazine.

There, Peter Harnik, author of Urban Green and director of The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, shows communities how to take another look at re-conceptualizing schoolyards, abandoned railroad tracks, community gardens, buried streams, rooftops and cemeteries.

U.S. cities are on an upward trajectory within this trend, Harnik writes, whether in their first growth cycle or in the midst of a revival. Parks have played, and will continue to play, a significant role in supporting a city’s fortunes. The key to success, he says, is to return to considerations that were forgotten or ignored in the din of suburbanization and sprawl: human scale, walkability, efficiency and respect for ecological principles.

Parks, ultimately, are about the essential relationship between people and nature. It’s why Mayor Michael Bloomberg has set the goal of having a park within a 10-minute walk of every New Yorker.

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