The Lasting Benefits of Pop-up Parks

The Lasting Benefits of Pop-up Parks

Grace Cammarn, Summer City Fellow, CEOs for Cities //


Pop-up parks seem like another weird buzz-word trend, right? Like that time in 2011 (that we’ve all tried to block out) when “planking” was a thing. But unlike planking, pop-up parks can serve a very real purpose to a community.

Defining Pop-up Parks


Take the neighborhood of Oak Cliff in Dallas, Texas. In his TED Talk entitled, “How to Build a Better Block,” Jason Roberts of The Better Block Foundation explains how he helped revitalize his neighborhood by finding an unloved space, breaking some rules, and building a park. One weekend on a deserted avenue, the group put up a pop-up coffee shop, turned a vacant garage into a kids’ art studio, and filled the street with flower markets and potted trees. The result? The pop-up park became a self-fulfilling prophecy as people started returning to that neighborhood, filling in the vacant spots with more permanent visions of the weekend-long pop-up park. A forgotten neighborhood finally turned into a space with real potential.

MinneapolisPop-up parks are often defined as reclamation of a car-designated area for pedestrian use. I would argue that this definition is narrow, and that pop-up parks can pop-up anywhere. In Minneapolis, for instance, the aim of one pop-up park was to get teens off of the street. In 2014, a pop-up park was built within Jordan Park in North Minneapolis. The pop-up park served as a forum for mentorship and community investment, narrowing the typical focus of increased community engagement.

Less Money. Less Permits. More Imagination.

One might ask, “Why do pop-up parks have to be temporary? You’re suggesting that they put up a park and then take it away?” My response is three-fold: pop-up parks require less money, less permits, and more imagination. Instead of having to go through the headache of acquiring land, employing planners, and jumping through hoops, it only takes a few passionate people with a vision and some imagination. As Jason Roberts puts it, with pop-up parks, you have to blackmail yourself. Pick a date and make it soon. Publish it. That way, when you come across a problem, instead of solving it by pushing back your date, you are “blackmailed” into being more creative with your solution. For instance, Jason Roberts’ pop-up park was missing greenery. He called up a local hotel who happened to be having a delivery of potted trees, and arranged for them to “fall off the truck” right around the time of their pop-up park’s appearance. Bada-bing: they had greenery.

Pop-up parks are a great way to revitalize areas that have been otherwise forgotten. City development happens from the successful neighborhoods out. The City of Cleveland, for example, is clearly focusing on Downtown, University Circle and Ohio City intending that the love will be spread to the places in between. But what about those in-between areas? Midtown, St. Clair-Superior, and Detroit-Shoreway?

Pop-up parks could be the solution, by getting people to become reacquainted with their own neighborhood, to appreciate its weirdness, and to envision what their thriving neighborhood could look like. Bringing new people to a city is not development alone. You have to consider the stakeholders who have been fighting for their neighborhood from the beginning. Pop-up parks can help them see the endless possibilities.

I’ll leave you with this: pop-up parks are about imagining what could be. The best people to revive a city are the city-dwellers themselves. Two vacant parking spaces can instead be people-watching seating. An empty garage can be a public art gallery. Pop-up parks may be temporary, but they can have lasting benefits.

Helpful Resources for Pop-ups:

  • This site offers guidance on how to get permits for hosting a pop-up park. It also sells building materials for pop-up friendly landscapes.
  • The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative published a report on their 2012 “Pop Up Rockwell” event
  • The Better Block Foundation has a great guide on revitalizing neighborhoods as a community

The headline photo is of The Oval, a pop-up park on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

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