Decoding Design

In L.A.'s 'pocket parks,' smart design taking root

In L.A.'s 'pocket parks,' smart design taking root

Posting in Architecture

L.A. is converting the lots of foreclosed homes into pocket parks, adding important green space to dense urban neighborhoods.

Massive urban parks, the likes of Golden Gate or Central, are a real treasure to tourists but they do less for residents who cannot easily access them. In large, dense cities such as Los Angeles, park quantity can trump size. That is why L.A. is in the midst of a campaign to bring 50 "pocket parks" to its densest, least green neighborhoods.

City planners consider pocket parks to be less than 20,000 square feet. They're designed expressly to serve residents who live within a short walk of the park. But where does a city get access to these lots? In L.A., planners are turning to an unfortunately ample stock of foreclosed homes.

After hearing this story about L.A.'s pocket parks on NPR, I wondered how one goes about designing a super small park. So I asked Robert Oyakawa, landscape architect with the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation & Parks.

One of the most important but least obvious considerations when building pocket parks is to use turf that doesn't require frequent mowing, since the number of these parks makes that kind of maintenance really expensive. "We use a slow growing grass that doesn't require mowing," says Oyakawa. "You can still sit on it but it's kind of wavy -- not something you could easily play Frisbee on." The city also uses drought-tolerate landscaping plants, an intelligent irrigation system and permeable pavers, all of which also help keep maintenance requirements low.

The city is also making a concerted effort to use native plants, Oyakawa adds, so it favors species such as Toyon, a native shrub that was recently named the official plant of Los Angeles.

Trash is another maintenance issue, says Oyakawa. To reduce the number of trash pick-ups required, the city installs Big Belly solar-powered trash-compacting receptacles in the pocket parks.

Because L.A. is turning residential lots into parks, there are also issues with keeping noise levels tolerable and helping to maintain the privacy of homes immediately adjacent to the parks. To help on this score, the city erects large chain-link fencing along the park boundaries and plants fast-growing vines that will eventually conceal the chain links and help absorb noise.

The city also uses small play features for the playgrounds, and minimally-sized outdoor fitness training stations.

Oyakawa mentioned another space-saving consideration that surprised me: "We make special signs for the park that are smaller than our standard city park signs, because those would look really large in these pocket parks."

Images: Los Angeles Department of Recreation & Parks

Via: NPR

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure