Houston Residents Want to Build Pocket Parks on City-Owned Lots

In a park-poor neighborhood, vacant lots provide an untapped opportunity for small-scale parks.

April 26, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Buffalo Bayou Park

CrackerClips Stock Media / Shutterstock

When residents of Houston's Third Ward saw an opportunity to transform a vacant city-owned lot into a neighborhood park, it sparked the idea for an entire network of pocket parks that could provide much-needed hyper-local green spaces in a park-poor area, writes Andy Olin for the Kinder Institute. As part of the city's Complete Communities Initiative, Third Ward residents identified one of their goals as "ensuring area families can access a park within a 10-minute walk," a goal which requires "an additional 21 acres of park space" in the area.

"In recent years, research increasingly has shown the importance and advantages of small-scale parks in providing access to quality green space close to home. The benefits range from improving health and fitness, reducing traffic and pollution and mitigating the effects of climate change, to empowering communities and making them more sociable, and building relationships between residents and city officials." Pocket parks complement, rather than replace, larger city parks and green spaces. A study of Tokyo residents' park usage patterns concluded that "to optimize public health in cities," large parks "need to be supplemented with even smaller, hyperlocal green spaces such as pocket parks." The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) identifies four key qualities of a successful pocket park: "They are accessible; allow people to engage in activities; are comfortable spaces and have a good image; and finally, are sociable places: one where people meet each other and take people to when they come to visit."

Advocates of pocket parks face some significant hurdles in their effort to build out a network of small parks maintained by, in many cases, local civic organizations. In addition to funding and day-to-day maintenance, the managing organization has to contend with liability issues and insurance. "We’re still exploring what it all takes," said Shannon Buggs, director of the city's Complete Communities program, "but it’s been complicated."

This Tuesday, "Houston Public Works and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) reached an agreement to transfer a vacant lot that has been targeted by the civic club for use as a pocket park over to the parks department." The 5,000-square-foot property can now become a park, paving the way for more projects like it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021 in Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research

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