Stuck in traffic, the car horns blare. Our phone buzzes, indicating yet another notification. We check our watch: 15 minutes to work … Thank God, there’s a parking spot. Up the lifts. Eight hours ahead at the desk…
There seems to be little escape from many of today’s urban pressures. We find ourselves longing for a breather, yearning for something else in our noisy, restless cities. Yet among the towering skyscrapers, where can we go?
In recent years, the growth in rooftop gardens and pocket parks are injecting a bit of calmness back into city-dwelling lives.
Hidden Havens in the Metropolitan
In Belgium, near the curve of the Dommel river, a petite garden atop an old building offers a wonderful retreat for its visitors. The afternoon sunshine filters through the foliage of the park’s honey locust trees. Although the Bulwark Sint Jan rooftop park only measures 700m in size, its long wooden benches welcome visitors for a moment of rest and repose. The park also serves as a gateway to town for tourists.
Moving to the west of Europe, the Magneten Sensory Garden in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen is a green oasis for people with physical and mental disabilities. Space is a precious resource in the country, so the garden was built on top of a car park, successfully meeting the needs of both existing car users and therapists from the nearby institution. Since 2017, the sensory garden has brought much happiness to those with special needs, allowing them to experience the joy of nature within a calm, protected place.
On the other side of the world, a neighborhood pocket park lies amidst closely-built houses in the Hoang Mai district in Vietnam. The project was initially opposed by residents who parked their cars on the empty plot, but these critics eventually resolved to utilize their argumentative skills over a friendly game of chess with their neighbors. Once a dry, abandoned grass patch, Think Playgrounds, a social enterprise composed of architects advocating for play spaces, designed and built the play equipment for the children. Today, residents of all ages find a sense of belonging in the shared communal space.
Impact on People and the Environment
Rooftop gardens and pocket parks bring communities together as well as improve people’s health and wellbeing by encouraging physical activity. However, the construction of these green urban spaces is not easy. Limited budgets and strict area regulations frequently hamper progress. The location itself is not exactly ideal either, yet the very purpose of these spaces was to offer a retreat into nature while being located in busy, exhaust-filled cities.
Scarcity, however, inspires innovation, as evident by the creative use of these established spaces by talented landscape architects.
Rainwater once running off from barren concrete down to drains is now being taken in by the ecosystem again, thus driving plant growth and biodiversity. Rooftop gardens in particular can lower a building’s temperature by absorbing heat in a natural cooling process. According to the United States Environment Protection Agency, these green roofs have the potential to reduce city-wide ambient temperatures by up to 5°F.
These green spaces are yet another testament as to why we cannot live without keeping nature in mind after all.
Photo: Pocket park in New York City (Wikimedia Commons)