The Livable City: Parks & Rec

My second book, a collection of essays intended to deliver the insights generated by the social sciences to students and practitioners of the design professions, had on its cover a photograph of a popular Manhattan minipark, part of a program originally proposed in the mid-60s by Thomas Hoving when he was briefly New York City's parks commissioner. In the years since, with no small effort by neighborhood residents and community activists from coast to coast, miniparks, pocket parks and public gardens have helped to ameliorate the urban landscape.
Pocket parks — also known as miniparks and vest-pocket parks — are small patches of landscaped nature generally built on vacant building lots or scraps of city land that fall between the cracks of real estate interests.

Jacob Riis, the urban reformer, is credited with inventing the pocket-park concept in 1897, when he served as the secretary of a city committee on small parks. The committee issued a statement declaring that “any unused corner, triangle or vacant lot kept off the market by litigation or otherwise may serve this purpose well.” Though turn-of-the-last-century New York was filled with spaces that fit the bill, Riis’s idea went largely unrealized until after World War II, when bombed-out building sites in European cities provided opportunities to create small parks at less cost than reconstruction would have entailed.

Hoving may have seen parallels between New York’s crumbling urban landscape and Europe’s war-ravaged capitals when he started his micro-park effort in 1966. That year, he identified 378 vacant lots and 346 abandoned buildings in Bedford-Stuyvesant alone.

“Utopia would mean a park — some large, some small — every four or five blocks,” he declared. These micro-oases could spring up in the middle of dense, socially fractious neighborhoods where, he believed, they had the potential to “create wider ripples of reform.” One thousand new pocket parks would mean adding only 140 acres to the city’s park acreage. Two hundred could be acquired and developed for less than 10 percent of his department’s annual budget.
The rest of the story: City of Earthy Delights by George Prochnik (New York Times 2009-12-12)

See, also: Turn Yards Into Parks by John Gabree (Impractical Proposals 2004-06)
Urban Oases: New York's Great Pocket Parks & Secret Gardens by Jacquelin Carnegie (Frommer's 2009-06-18)
Shocking Video Shows Los Angeles City Bulldozing Community Gardens Into the Dirt by Mike Adams (Natural News 2009-02-15)
Showdown at South Central Farm by Robert Gottlieb (Next American City)

Resources: Pocket Parks - StreetWiki (LivableStreets Initiative)
Pocket Parks gallery (Project for Public Spaces)
Los Angeles Community Garden Council
Los Angeles County Common Ground Garden Program

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