Pocket Parks Popping Up All Over Town

Miniparks stake out green space in a crowded city

Sparky Park, near the corner of Grooms and 38th streets, features a grotto wall created by local artist Berthold Haas. 
Why Sparky? Electrical sparks sometimes flew from the Austin Energy substation formerly on the site.
Sparky Park, near the corner of Grooms and 38th streets, features a grotto wall created by local artist Berthold Haas. Why "Sparky"? Electrical sparks sometimes flew from the Austin Energy substation formerly on the site. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The recent opening of Sparky Park, in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Central Austin, is part of an encouraging trend by the Parks & Recreation Department to open new "pocket parks" in the central city. Pocket parks (sites smaller than 2 acres) offer an achievable way to add well-used recreation space and a welcome bit of greenery in central city neighborhoods. Their development supports the city's policy of encouraging urban densification over suburban sprawl and can keep Austin neighborhoods livable as they add residents and buildings. PARD policy over the past 15 years has focused on suburban park acquisition; new Director Sara Hensley has a fresh outlook.

"I think pocket parks play an important role where there are not other opportunities for open space or parks," said Hensley recently. But, she warned: "We do have to consider the cost and impact of maintenance when building pocket parks. In many cases, they cost just as much in maintenance as would a larger park, due to the various amenities and special areas."

Other recent PARD pocket parks include both Chestnut Park (2005) and the major renovation of Lott Park (2006) in Central East Austin, as well as Brownie Park (2006) in North Austin. New pocket parks coming soon include Del Curto Park (to open summer 2009) in south Central Austin, Arma­dil­lo Park (opening fall 2009) in South Austin, and Velasquez Plaza (2010) in Central East Austin. Pocket parks being improved by "friend" groups, with PARD support, include Zilker Neighborhood Park.

The Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department is also on the job. "We're always looking for parks of smaller and larger scale," said senior planner Erica Leak. As part of neighborhood plan implementation, Neighborhood Planning and Zoning gave PARD a list of the top-priority pocket-park and green-space needs, submitted by individual neighborhoods last year – especially for hoods with no patch of green to call their own. Station area plans adopted for three transit-oriented districts around rail stops and the draft East Riverside Corridor Plan also show new pocket parks sited in ideal locations as an integral element. "PARD is looking for opportunities at each TOD area that lacks Parks amenities," said Hensley. "For instance, at the MLK Station, we're looking at Boggy Creek as a linear trail system; at Crestview/Justin Lane, we're looking at any publicly owned land for future park opportunities." A new BMX/skate park near Ninth and Lamar is also on PARD's project list.

As part of the Downtown Austin Plan, ROMA Austin is developing a parks and open-space plan. New pocket parks or other outdoor gathering spots could become part of the Waller Creek District Master Plan. New pocket parks, plazas, or other public outdoor spaces should also balance live-work-retail spaces within the Green and Seaholm redevelopment projects.

Pocket parks "give us even more opportunities to work and partner with our neighborhoods, the business community, and the many groups that love and value parks," said Hens­ley. "Through creative partnerships, I believe we can develop more green spaces and pocket parks where they are needed."

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pocket parks, Sparky Park, Parks & Recreation Department, Sara Hensley, Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department

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