Biophilic cities are cities with easy access to natural areas, both large and small. Large urban parks are undoubtedly great places for connection with nature, but smaller parks have benefits as well. Researchers in Denmark have conducted a study to determine the most common uses of Small Public Urban Green Spaces (SPUGS), also known as Pocket Parks. These small areas of urban nature are typically found in areas of extreme population density, and therefore have the potential for large numbers of people to access them easily. Throughout the summer of 2010, Karin K. Peschardt of the University of Copenhagen visited nine SPUGS regularly to document who was using these parks, and for what purposes.

In order to determine the SPUGS to include in the study, Peschardt and her fellow researchers followed the City of Copenhagen’s criteria for Pocket Parks. These criteria (excerpted from Peschardt 236) specify that the SPUGS:

  • Must not exceed 5000m(just under 54,000 square feet)
  • Must have at least some vegetation
  • Must have direct public access
  • Must have distinguishable boundaries which separate them from the surrounding public space

The researchers used a city-generated list to identify the “population” of potential SPUGS within the densest housing areas of Copenhagen. After the research team surveyed potential parks on the list, they narrowed down sites to nine SPUGS based on actual conditions and desired categories such as “Geometric Design,” “Café/History,” and “Multicharacteristic” (one of the nine SPUGS studied is Odins Lomme, a park in the Nørrebro neighborhood just under half an acre). The researchers documented use at each selected SPUG at various times of day, once per week for five months, and during the study period elicited 686 questionnaire responses from SPUGS users.

The results of the study concluded that most park users visited SPUGS for socializing and “rest and restitution” (Peschardt 240). Furthermore, the data suggest that those visiting SPUGS for relaxation spend less time in the SPUGS than those who use the spaces for socializing. Significantly, nearly 80% of respondents did not have access to a private garden at home, reinforcing the need for such urban natural areas in close proximity to high-density living. Finally, the study infers that since the SPUGS examined are used mainly for reasons pertaining to “social and mental wellbeing,” these spaces have potential health benefits and it would be wise to increase their number for the benefit of city residents, particularly those living at high densities without access to other green spaces nearby (Peschardt 243).

Peschardt et al.’s research on SPUGS suggests that they are used by many people and for important purposes, and that cities would benefit from creating them (or creating more of them, as the case may be). The city of Copenhagen, as part of a larger vision to become the greenest capital city in the world plans to implement 14 additional pocket parks by 2015 (see Danish Architecture Centre for a further discussion of the plan for Pocket Parks in Copenhagen). The City of Los Angeles, California recently announced a 50 Parks Initiative, with plans to establish fifty new small parks in distressed areas of the city that have both high population density and a lack of parks nearby. At least two of the fifty parks have already been completed, including the new 49th Street Pocket Park, featured recently in a story about the new Pocket Parks in Los Angeles on National Public Radio. These initiatives incorporating biophilic elements at a micro-scale in cities throughout the world have the potential for significant positive effects on residents’ health and well-being, as tested and proven by Peschardt and her team.

While Pocket Parks and the Small Public Urban Green Spaces studied here are small, this by no means limits their significance. In fact, their size makes it easier to locate them in close proximity to large numbers of urban residents. When cities such as Copenhagen and Los Angeles and many others prioritize implementation of small urban natural areas, they create opportunities for urban residents to interact with nature as part of their daily lives, a key element in designing and planning truly biophilic cities.

For more information, see Peschardt et al.’s article:

Peschardt, Karin K., Jasper Schipperijn, and Ulrika K. Stigsdotter. 2012. “Use of Small Public Urban Green Spaces (SPUGS),” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 11(3): 235-244.

Additional Resources:

Pocket Parks Research Brief

 Pocket Parks Description

Julia Triman, Biophilic Cities Project Researcher 

Julia is a masters degree  candidate for the Urban and Environmental Planning discipline at the University of Virginia.