In this column, I want to reflect on the potential of the recently created “Pocket Parks” from two points of view. First, as an opportunity for an intensive landscape project and second as a transient landscape. For this we must be clear that these sites, beyond being places to share a coffee in the center of Santiago or to enjoy a good meal while walking, are instances that help bring life and convert abandoned spaces in cities where practically no more land remains to develop new projects for open public spaces.
As a sort of opening act for a city in “holiday mode” on Wednesday January 13, 2016, the first “Pocket Park” was opened in Santiago. Located at Morandé 83, in front of the east facade of the Moneda and between the Metropolitan City Council Office (Intendencia Metropolitana) and the Ministry of Public Works, this small square transforms an enclosed and sterile site into one conditioned as a resting spot for pedestrians who roam the civic center of the city.
According to the statements issued by Councilman Claudio Orrego about this initiative, the Pocket Parks are “transitory public spaces that occupy abandoned, vacant sites and which are being kept for other potential investments. In this case, the site is projected for a building at some point in the future.” These are places with multiple benefits for the city and are low cost projects in terms of implementation (1).
(1) Teletrece (Web) Bored on vacation? The proposal for the first “Plaza de bolsillo“(Pocket Park) (January 13, 2016) <http://www.t13.cl/noticia/tendencias/asi-funcionara-primera-plaza-bolsillo>
As has been proposed, this parkette − already built − would fit within a larger system of public spaces. It is estimated that there would be 400 sites with the potential to be transformed in the same manner as this first example: by fixing up the area with clean and continuous soil, the installation of potted plants with shrubs and trees, tables and chairs and mobile food stands or foodtrucks.
Although this idea for the terrain is definitely better than the current situation, in this column I want to reflect on the potential of these sites from two points of view. First, as an opportunity for an intensive landscape project and second as a transient landscape. For this we must be clear that these sites, beyond being places to share a coffee in the center of Santiago or to enjoy a good meal while walking, are instances that help bring life and convert unfavorable spaces − in physical, social or even economic terms − in a community where practically no more land remains to develop new open-space projects.
Starting from this premise, the idea of a landscape project unfolds. These are instances where something transformative could be done, an opportunity to create special points where there are momentary possibilities for rest, playfulness and/or the appearance of nature at each site. These are instances where each spatial response could be an occasion to create sensations and experiences in contrast with the surrounding constructed density of buildings.
In the case of this first example, the established aesthetic is simple and responds to a common and necessary use in a sector of office buildings, e.g. it encourages a moment of rest outside the work cubicle. The first Pocket Park initiative is shaped as an interior summer patio with terrace furniture and white restaurant umbrellas. Here, some picnic tables remind one of camping, while the trees accentuate the imaginary of a small square. This manner of creating a square could be consistent with its location as it provides space for the mid-morning coffee of public officials, merchants and lawyers who apparently find it a distinctive, economic and open-air site in summer.
Now, taking advantage of the fact that not all the potential sites have yet been developed, I would like to propose that it is not necessary to limit ourselves to this typological model or compositional form; we could rethink the vegetation and its role, the elements of shade and the distribution of street furniture. In fact, the richness of these places could be transformed with surprise and an intensity of ideas limited only by our creativity. These small urban spaces could become fantastic spaces for play, small forests, beaches, urban gardens, colonial terraces, or other types of potentially developable landscapes without much economic effort. The second point of view, closely related to the landscape as intensity, is the idea of transience and how it affects or enhances the Pocket Park as a landscape opportunity. For example, the momentary and economic solution requires a non-stable soil, easy cleaning, care and removal. The unoccupied existing sites have the potential to be landscape projects, not only because unused public spaces can be transformed into a network of open spaces within an urban context, but also because their flexibility does not require a unique or standardized response. It is their non-definitive condition that allows them to vary according to the time of year, their use in different seasons, and the variety of their audience, opening up new possibilities.
It would be ideal for the authorities to allow Pocket Parks not to become homogeneous responses to a landscape idea with so much potential. Moreover, this response should in no way be limited to just these first two or three small parks, but rather it should be transformed into the beginnings of a true landscape network within the city.