By Gary Cameron
With some parts of Surrey experiencing dramatically increased densification as they transition from suburban to urban neighbourhoods, one of the side-effects of this development is the lag time between new homeowners moving in and services like police, schools and parks finally being provided. In many neighbourhoods the city has promised parks will be built eventually but often residents in the interim are just looking for an open space with greenery and a bench where they can go for some fresh air and a break.
One way to provide parks at a reasonable cost that will meet the immediate needs of neighbours is through pocket parks (also known as vest-pocket parks or mini-parks), a concept that has been proven effective all over the world and that I believe makes sense for some areas of Surrey as well.
There are some parks that will eventually come on line, for example the recently acquired horse stable at 168 and 28, but although the city has acquired the land already it’s unclear how soon the park will be built. As an interim solution to the pressing need for parks in Grandview Heights, it would be relatively simple to create a pocket park on the north side of his property with perhaps a gazebo and some benches while awaiting the completion of the rest of the park. For more:
In 2008 the City of Surrey came up with a report entitled “Proposed Mini-Park and Plaza Designations” that is an excellent blueprint for “the introduction of small “pocket” parks in higher density neighbourhoods on the basis that the current approach to providing parks is not fully meeting the needs and demands from the public. The intent of this report is to provide a set of draft classifications and guidelines for new types of small parks for Council’s consideration and approval.”
From speaking to Parks staff recently, it is clear that there is an urgent need for pocket parks, and they are attempting to address this need if funding is forthcoming.
What are pocket parks?
Allison Blake describes pocket parks as “urban open space at the very small scale. Usually only a few house lots in size or smaller, pocket parks can be tucked into and scattered throughout the urban fabric where they serve the immediately local population. These diminutive parks tend to act as scaled-down neighborhood parks, but still often try to meet a variety of needs. Functions can include small event space, play areas for children, spaces for relaxing or meeting friends, taking lunch breaks. etc. They can be a refuge from the bustle of surrounding urban life and offer opportunities for rest and relaxation.”
To make my case for pocket parks in Surrey I’m going to explore this subject in three sections:
– First I’ll briefly discuss how pocket parks have been utilized in Surrey in the past
– Then I’ll propose how and why they could be implemented in conjunction with development as well as illustrate some of the elements I think could be included in a typical pocket park built in the midst of a typical Surrey urban development.
– Finally, I’ll include a comprehensive look at pocket parks in general, providing links to projects from all over the world that will show how and why they were built and explain why they are so popular.
1. HISTORY of POCKET PARKS IN SURREY:
When there is a subdivision that creates three or more new lots, City of Surrey Parks can, through the Local Government Act, require the developers to contribute 5% of their land towards Parks or 5% cash in lieu of their land that goes towards parkland acquisition elsewhere. In a lot of the older neighbourhoods in Surrey there are plenty of these small parks that were acquired through the subdivision process. That 5% contribution has been a significant source of income for decades, although it is getting smaller each year as more and more townhouses are constructed because they don’t create new lots, just strata units.
In the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s Surrey usually chose to take the 5% requirement as land instead of cash in lieu. That has protected some lands in older areas of the City, but it has at times caused problems because all too often they have proven to be challenging to maintain and operate. These pocket parks (also referred to sometimes as ‘tot lots’) are often too small to provide any real amenities like playground equipment. Some examples:
Tom Thumb Tot Lot (from the 70’s) 6703 – 141 Street:
Jack N Jill Tot Lot, 12852 – 68 Avenue:
There aren’t many pocket parks in South Surrey, Alexandra Tot lot being one of the few.
Here are a few discussions culled from various city meeting that dealt with pocket parks in various areas of the city:
Newton is the site of a number of pocket parks, as discussed at the meeting mentioned above under the section entitled: Parkland Contribution. “There is currently a shortage of a neighbourhood-level “pocket” park in the South Newton NCP area, particularly west of 142 Street and south of 60 Avenue. Each development application proposing an increase in unit density over and above the NCP designation exacerbates the need for this park space.”
There was a useful discussion of pocket parks at this city meeting regarding the East Clayton neighbourhood on Page 9-11: “Pocket parks will be neighbourhood destinations with amenities to create more neighbourhood interaction” “Pocket parks require community buy-in and ownership. Have canvassed neighbourhoods to discover needs and address these through design.” “Staff have visited other similar sites and looking in from the streets and houses the pocket park is small and good and open. From a security perspective, this is quite desirable.”
As well, there was a good discussion at a 2009 meeting about “park construction by the development sector” on Page 1:
“This site is ideal for a pocket park for the following reasons: it is centrally located and within walking distance of the high residential densities.”
Judging by the photo, this may not be the best example of what a pocket park should look like:
Hint: just a bit of grass, no amenities, not a welcoming gathering space …
There are admittedly potential challenges to pocket parks. Because they are usually surrounded by single family houses, they often have problems with dumping of yard waste (that leads to invasive species taking over), graffiti, maintenance, and other issues like people loitering after dark.
Currently, the City often takes cash in lieu instead of land because the available money to acquire land is being stretched more and more, so they try to be very strategic about what land they acquire with their limited funds, hence the movement towards larger parks. I witnessed a meeting where the city was offered a piece of land with several desirable mature trees as a potential park in the midst of a crowded new subdivision and, for a variety of reasons, parks rejected the offer. I’d like to see City Council push for more pocket parks using land contributions from developers.
2. Why Pocket Parks should be considered for typical Surrey developments:
- They can be created on land of any size or shape donated as part of the development process at no initial cost to the taxpayer in order to serve the local population.
- Although they are too small for the usual park facilities like playing fields and playgrounds, there could be provisions for some very basic workout activities as well as child play areas and pet-friendly facilities.
- They would provide a limited amount of open space, greenery and a comfortable place to sit down.
- There are studies that show “Open spaces such as parks and recreation areas can have a positive effect on nearby residential property values, and can lead to proportionately higher property tax revenues for local governments.”
- They are a perfect place for neighbours to gather for informal conversations, to play games, to walk their dogs and generally to get out of the house for a breath of fresh air.
- If the neighbours approve of the project (and they should be consulted about their ideas well ahead of time) it is hoped they will take long-term ownership of the pocket park concept by pitching in to help keep it a clean, quiet and safe asset to the area under the overall management, of course, of the city.
- Although Pocket Parks are inherently small in area, they would still contribute to increasing the amount of permeable surface for drainage purposes. Their greenery would contribute to the tree canopy and they could also function as a home for some wildlife such as birds.
- Having Pocket Parks scattered throughout the city would mean residents would not have to get in their car and drive to some of the larger parks, thus limiting vehicle use, traffic congestion, and taking some pressure off those already crowded major parks.
- They would be useful for staging small neighbourhood events such as block parties and Block Watch gatherings.
- The park should be accessible to children and people with disabilities.
- Creating mini-parks increase physical activity. For more click here.
Some elements to be considered for a prototype Surrey Pocket Park, although obviously no single Pocket Park can incorporate all of these elements:
- Low fencing on all sides except the street to separate from adjacent neighbour’s yards, high enough to keep visitors inside park limits but low enough that neighbours can easily monitor activity in the park for security reasons.
- A Toter curbside garbage collection cart for dog waste, dirty diapers and litter, to be picked up twice monthly in conjunction with the regular neighbourhood collection run.
- There would be no access after dark, and of course no overnight camping as is the case with most parks, and the city would ask the RCMP and the By-Law Enforcement folks to commit to strictly enforcing these regulations in order to ensure peace and quiet for neighbours at night.
- A Gazebo structure with protected seating because of the rainy season on the west coast. Pisa stone or concrete steps could be used for sitting and relaxing in addition to getting from one elevation to another.
- Landscaping: Minimize grass area, and maximize paving stones, pathways, trees, shrubs, rock gardens and planted garden areas
- Built in game seating with two fixed chairs facing a game table suitable for board games like chess or checkers or card games
- Bike rack
- Simple, maintenance-free outdoor workout equipment
- Simple concrete stairs (5 steps up, a landing at top that can double as a kid’s fort, and 5 steps down the other side, with railings and no-skid treads) to use for fitness training
- Picnic table
- Sandbox for little kids
Still curious about pocket parks? Here are some links that provide overviews, details, and more.
A comprehensive overview of pocket parks
13 of the best pocket parks in New York City
Pocket Parks Blossom to Create Shareable Spaces
A great overview of Pocket Parks in urban areas
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and are presented here by the GHSA to encourage healthy debate. The GHSA Blog exists as a resource to enable members concerned with the environmental and community stewardship of Grandview Heights to voice perspectives. When directors of the Association contribute to the blog, they do so as private citizens, not as officers representing the Association. The GHSA reserves the right to edit, condense or reject any contribution.