Sustainable Cities™

Copenhagen - Pocket parks, a drop of urban green

Green cities are on the rise. Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is one of the cities trying to improve the urban environment and deal with the daily green needs and desires of its inhabitants. One way of doing so is pocket parks: Open green spaces at a very small scale, often created on vacant building lots or on irregular pieces of land.

Ravnsborggade visualisering, venligst udlånt af Københavns Kommune/Ekstrakt

Copenhagen has a vision of becoming the capital city in the world with the best urban environment by 2015. The enhancement of urban green is one of the tools for reaching this vision. Beore 2015 the municipality will establish 14 pocket parks throughout the city and plant 3,000 trees to create green streets and connections. The goal is that 90 % of all Copenhageners by 2015 can walk to a park, a beach or a harbour bath in less than 15 minutes.

A pocket park is a small park accessible to the general public. It is only a few house lots in size and typically created on vacant building lots or small irregular pieces of land. Functions include spaces for relaxation, meeting friends, taking lunch breaks, reading a book, play areas for children etc. Often pocket parks are placed around a monument, a historic mark or in relation to an art project.

"Pocket parks are a unique opportunity to create drops of urban green close to where Copenhageners live." Klaus Bondam, Mayor for Technical and Environmental Administration, City of Copenhagen

The City of Copenhagen highlights 5 elements key to the creation of pocket parks in Copenhagen:
• Size
• A visible green element
• Openness and a positive image
• Demarcation and protection
• Identity and local community

A pocket park is defined as less than 5,000 square meters - less than half the size of a soccer field. The green element is visible and a clear priority, preferably with a focus on long-term solutions, i.e. vegetation that becomes more green and attractive in time. The park has to be open and inviting to everybody and signs have to be positive and informative. Special consideration must be given to lighting so the park feels safe, also after dark.

A characteristic feature of a pocket park in Copenhagen is that it has to be situated between other elements in the city; Buildings, walls, maybe a green wall, or art installations. A clear demarcation must be visible on three sides so that it stands out as a "pocket." Each park will have its own identity and has to be developed specifically to the site in question. Involvement of local residents in the development process is important to ensure that the park fits the needs and desires of the local community.

Besides serving the local community, the establishment of pocket parks throughout Copenhagen also has the potential to benefit the overall urban climate. Communities with parks that meet their needs within walking distance are less likely to drive out of the city for nature experiences, thereby reducing pollution and traffic. Furthermore, pocket parks can potentially relieve pressure on the larger parks, thus allowing flexibility to devote larger areas of the parks to habitat and ecological functions.

In a city strategy from May 2008, the establishment of pocket parks in Copenhagen will go hand in hand with the creation of green streets and connections. The vision is to create a green liveable city with quality and variation which will be a role model in featuring urban environmental responses to global warming.

Green connection along the harbour front, courtesy of the City of Copenhagen/Ekstrakt

Inspiration: New York - city of pocket parks

New York City has a number of pocket parks, both historic and modern. The most famous example is Paley Park in Midtown Manhattan on the North side of East 53rd Street between Madison and 5th Avenue. It is a private owned public park designed by Robert Lewis Zion of Zion & Breen and funded by the William S. Paley Foundation.

Paley Park NYC, 2 February 2006, by tayloliz, Flickr Creative Commons

Completed in 1967, the park features12 honey locust trees, a 20-foot-high waterwall, vertical walls adorned with ivy and cobblestones set unevenly to slow pedestrian traffic. The waterfall, flowing more than 6,800 litres of water per minute, creates a backdrop of grey noise masking the sounds of the city. The park is inviting to passersby, partly because it is elevated above street level. Though it is a very popular and often crowded, locals describe it as a quiet and restful place.

Pocket parks - not just an urban phenomenon

Pocket parks can be urban, suburban or rural, and can be on either public or private land. Northamptonshire, a county of 630,000 inhabitants in the English East Midlands, has created more than 80 pocket parks within the past 18 years. The parks vary in size from 0.04 ha to 35 ha and location types vary from town centres to quiet villages. In contrast to Copenhagen, pocket parks in Northamptonshire do not have to be "walled." Any available space can become a pocket park - for example a former parking lot on open ground. All needed is political and grass root support. Read more 


Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014