Small Interventions to Overcome Big Challenges: Pocket Park Networks

Project Info
  • Theme Community-Based
  • Type Built Project
  • Scale Community
  • Location Thailand
  • AuthorsYossapon BoonsomPrae LertprasertkulNuttcha Paopahon
  • CollaboratorsWe!park


The idea of ‘Equitable Resilience’ has several possible interpretations. As landscape architects, we define equitable resilience as the ability to adapt to or recover quickly from crises while supporting the needs of the city and simultaneously balancing power, knowledge, and resources by including multiple stakeholders. Matin, Nilufar, John Forrester, and Jonathan Ensor. 2018. “What is equitable resilience?” For a city to be resilient, it needs to provide people with the capacity to be responsive to change, both physically and mentally.

Bangkok is a city composed of more gray than green: 48 percent of the city is concrete, 18 percent is used for agriculture, and only 2 percent is devoted to parks. With a population of over six million people, the city provides only about 6.9 square meters of green spaces per person,  according to Bangkok’s Office of the Environment, far short of the international standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO) of nine square meters per person. “คนกรุงเทพฯ มีพื้นที่สีเขียวไม่เพียงพอจริงหรือ?” n.d. The Visual by Thai PBS. Moreover, according to the United Nations Human Settlement Program, an effective green space should be accessible within a distance of 400 meters, or reached within a 5-minute walk from residence. UN-Habitat. 2020. “(PDF) Public space site-specific assessment.” UN-Habitat. In Bangkok, only 13 percent of green spaces meet this accessibility recommendation, meaning that green space is lacking in neighborhoods. Bangkok’s design does not correspond well to residents’ needs: people lack spaces for physical activities, the urban design does not respond well to floods: with at least 20 localities in four districts that are flood-prone together with ineffective drainage system, and the city lacks proper accessibility to green space. As such, the city is far from meeting the definition of resilience.

We see parks as small-scale interventions that can provide solutions to these problems and others, including mitigating floods, absorbing air pollution, reducing urban heat, tackling food insecurity, or increasing ecological biodiversity through the selection of plantings and green spaces. As the WHO observes, green spaces have a wide range of benefits, including providing opportunities for physical activity, supporting social and psychological well-being, and improving air quality. Moreover, a bountiful number of small parks is more effective than a few large ones. World Health Organization. 2010. “(PDF) Healthy urban planning, environment and health.” WHO/Europe.

One solution to limitations on green space in cities is ‘pocket parks,’ small-sized parks that can be inserted into unused or neglected urban space. Leveraging pocket parks as an important solution to Bangkok’s lack of green space in the context of equitable resilience, requires collaboration and engagement between stakeholders such as the government, private sector, and community. Integrating participation into the implementation of pocket parks helps urban dwellers feel a sense of belonging toward their neighborhood. Private sector organizations need to work closely with the government in obtaining vacant land where then the public sector needs to be informed of how the space will be designed and transformed.

Hua Lamphong Pocket Park, Bangkok, Thailand, created through a participatory process with local residents


The Project

In response to Bangkok’s green space crisis, our team has created We!park, which is supported by the Office of Thai Health Promotion Foundation, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, and the Thai Association of Landscape Architects. We!park works toward creating a system of green spaces within the city’s infrastructure by identifying and designing pocket parks. It functions as an active platform and a mediator to connect various stakeholders and engage communities of Bangkok in an inclusive way. It empowers people and provides knowledge and tools for exploring, designing, and planning green spaces in the city.

To contribute to equitable resilience, a pocket park must be designed according to specific local contexts and issues. We use a participatory process to help meet diverse needs within the specific context of each site, following five steps: initiation, planning, designing, implementation, and maintenance. Hamdi, Nabeel, and Reinhard Goethert. 1997. Action Planning for Cities: A Guide to Community Practice. N.p.: Wiley. The process is supported by a series of participatory workshops, and it draws on information such as the process of creating a pocket park, previous accomplished projects, and a database of quantitative and qualitative research.

We!park’s website provides a Green Finder feature that helps people to explore and visualize data on green spaces in Bangkok. It is designed to help residents learn about existing and potential green spaces and become engaged in the cause of identifying and developing parks. Residents can actively participate in updating the website database by inserting information on nearby unused spaces. When selecting a location, the interactive online platform will show a current amount of potential un-utilized spaces, a percentage of green accessibility (within a radius of 400 meters), a ratio of green areas per person, and a percentage of green canopy areas per person.

Choduk community pocket park in Bangkok, Thailand, as part of the green network


The Parks

Hua Lamphong Pocket Park in Bangkok is We!park’s first completed project, turning a 1,048-square-meter abandoned plot into a collaborative pocket park. This pocket park demonstrates how the participatory process impacts park programming and design. The park comprises an event lawn at the front, a compact playground for children, an exercise area for older adults, and a small edible garden at the back. The process began with identifying potential abandoned land, and then brainstorming and designing the park through multiple co-creation workshops with students from the nearby school and university, community members, and private and public sector stakeholders. These workshops were a space to discuss and identify problems and needs of all generations, gather opinions, and imagine possibilities for the area. We then developed a 1:1 prototype park that allowed community members to experience the design and give feedback. After design revision, the park was ready to be fully implemented. Crowdfunding was applied as an engagement from the stakeholders and the community, who later contributes to the maintenance of the pocket park when it was operated. The participatory approach allows us to make sure that the needs of the community and park users are met in this shared space.

Choduk Community Pocket Park in Bangkok is another We!park project that revitalizes un-utilized space along the canal into a pocket park consisting of a playground, an exercise area with outdoor sport equipment, and a relaxation zone with benches and planting plots under the shade of existing trees. The design aims to create a public space for users from all age groups that encourages more people to explore and be active together in peaceful co-existence. From planning to implementation with multiple workshops shaping design criteria, We!park and local architects and partners worked closely with the government, private sector, and community to ensure that the pocket park met the needs of relevant stakeholders. This pocket park, now maintained by the community, is one of seven experimental nodes in a Klong Phadung Pop Park event that explored the possibility of a green network where each node could be accessed within 400 meters or a five to ten-minute walk.

These pocket parks provide multiple benefits: they increase outdoor public spaces in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, support biodiversity, and improve air quality by capturing particles and accumulating carbon dioxide Meo, S.A.; Almutairi, F.J.; Abukhalaf, A.A.; Usmani, A.M. Effect of Green Space Environment on Air Pollutants PM2.5, PM10, CO, O3, and Incidence and Mortality of SARS-CoV-2 in Highly Green and Less-Green Countries. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 13151. Mair, Callum. n.d. “Why we need green spaces in cities.” Natural History Museum. The softscape acts as a sponge that retains, absorbs, and stores stormwater of the city, reducing urban flooding; permeable natural landscape can absorb as much as 90 percent of rainwater. Denchak, Melissa. 2019. “Green Infrastructure: How to Manage Water in a Sustainable Way.” NRDC. Moreover, these pocket parks can be customized and integrated into many types of spaces, including abandoned construction lots, the centers of vast avenues, empty parking spaces, and areas under Bangkok’s expressway and near its canals. They play an important role in many communities and neighborhoods of Bangkok where residents live in dense housing situations, with houses lacking front lawns and condominiums and apartments providing little green space. The pocket park serves as a place where people can be in nature while still being close to home.

Parks and gardens are often viewed as isolated landscapes, but people should view this network of participatory-designed pocket parks as a system operating together as part of the city’s ‘green infrastructure.’ Green infrastructure increases access to nature, creates recreational opportunities and space for physical activity, promotes community identity and a sense of well-being, and provides economic benefits for both the community and the household individuals. The spreading of green infrastructure in neighborhoods and abandoned spaces in the district increases water absorbance capacity and equitably enhances resilience. The process of developing new green infrastructure can be a tool for improving the physical environment, promoting social empowerment, and also providing a solution for cities that helps people adapt to and recover from climate change and other global challenges.