There are number of large public gardens around Melbourne CBD such as Carlton Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens, which are sadly underutilised. I think there are three main reasons why people don’t make the most of them. First, they are difficult to reach on foot from the inner suburban residential areas; second, there’s no connection between these large public spaces and the city’s private spaces. And third, there is nothing to do when you get there, apart from walk along a path or sit on the occasional bench; they are boring.
Suburban Pocket Paths could provide an antidote to Melbourne’s large parks; decentralised small or medium size open spaces dotted around the suburbs. They could slot in between residential blocks and bring new types of urban fabric to the area; helping to break down the dense private residential areas and making the area greener and more breathable. With walking distances between parks reduced, a network of open spaces in the suburbs would be created.
Activity programs within the Pocket Parks could vary according to the neighbourhood; they can be fun, creative and temporary. In Melbourne, a city with density and diversity, Pocket Parks have the potential to create a more lively, active and dynamic polycentric city. The pocket park could be located every 150m within a 30m x 15m building block. The program of the park could be intuitive, creating outdoor cinema, playgrounds, mini sports fields and temporary exhibition spaces.
Collingwood, for example, is full of busy restaurants and pubs but open public spaces are very limited. Where can kids play? Where can people from different places interact? Where can people have fun outside of places to eat and drink? Pocket Park offers these “third places”, a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg for a place between home and work.
This urban approach is not new. In 1947, the architect Aldo Van Eyck experimented with a bottom-up approach to architecture in Amsterdam, through a series of children’s playgrounds, which sadly have largely disappeared and been forgotten about today. These playgrounds were situated in-between the urban spaces and interacted with the surrounding urban fabric. The temporary character of these playgrounds enabled the character of the space to be continuously reinvented by the people who used them.
We need to bring imagination back to the park.