Pocket parks cut stress, build community

The City of Sydney has doubled the annual funding for upgrading pocket parks, with $4 million now available to ensure up to eight little parks would be upgraded every year for the next decade.

Academic research is showing the value of this investment. A recent University of WA report says access to high-quality green places lowers levels of stress and creates a greater sense of comfort and safety.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said pocket parks across the City had been upgrade with improved landscaping, new playground and barbeque equipment as well as safe lighting and better signage.

"In the past six years we've upgraded a remarkable 40 parks, including a tiny playground at Millers Point for barbecues with multimillion-dollar harbour views, and a wonderful little park perfect for bird watching in Glebe," the Lord Mayor said.

Some of the City's pocket parks slated for improvements in 2013 include:

• Devonshire St Reserve - Surry Hills

• Janet Bierne Playground - Beaconsfield

• Chelsea St Reserve - Redfern

• St James Park - Glebe

• Edgley Street Reserve - Surry Hills

• Jack Shuttleworth Reserve - Alexandria.

Earlier this month, four tiny parks in Erskineville and Newtown were transformed into accessible open-air venues for four performance artists who put on free shows as part of the Sydney Festival.

For thousands of residents, visitors, children, parents and workers, the City's 330 pocket parks and playgrounds are urban oases.

The Lord Mayor said seeing children enjoy the City's pocket parks and playgrounds reminded her of being a young mum who wanted a place for her children to feel grass underfoot.

"When I first moved to Redfern in the late 1970s it was a bleak and treeless place where small parks were asphalted and surrounded by chain wire fences topped by barbed wire," the Lord Mayor said.

"With the help of other local parents, we convinced the local council to make a space that was welcoming and useful for children and parents."

Elizabeth McRae Reserve, at the corner of Zamia and Kepos Streets, has been hugely popular ever since and it's well known for a collection of free toys donated by local families.

Some other parks also operate as informal toy libraries, while others provide whimsical play equipment or just a green sanctuary away from the bustle.

A report from Doctor Jacinta Francis, of the University of WA's School of Population Health, identifies the increasing importance of easy access to parks.

"One of my major findings was that neighbourhoods with high-quality parks were almost twice as likely to be home to residents with low levels of psychological distress," said Dr Francis.

"Other research I've conducted found perceived park quality can be directly linked with a greater sense of community and sense of place."

Whether it's for relaxation, socialising, children's playgrounds, bird watching or a barbecue, the City's pocket parks are worth a visit.

Some of the City of Sydney's best pocket parks are:

  • Pottinger Park, Millers Point: see the sandstone ruins of the home where horse and cart driver Arthur Payne lived in the 1900s - the first Sydneysider to be diagnosed with the bubonic plague
  • Barcom Avenue Park, Surry Hills: where former convict Thomas West built a water mill using the streams that ran down into Rushcutters Bay, now rainwater is harvested underground from the adjacent St Vincent Hospital buildings to water the park
  • Lilian Fowler Reserve, Newtown: a partnership between the City and Newtown Public school creating new playspaces for students, raingardens, herb gardens, recycled pavers and bike racks
  • Ethel Turner Reserve, Paddington: whimsical play elements and structures nestle among existing sandstone outcrops
  • Pinkstone Playground, Erskineville: sheltered by old gum trees this tiny corner park exudes playfulness and fantasy for with a huge woven cocoon/cubby house and a tangled nest holding gigantic 'eggs'
  • Kirsova Playground 1, Erskineville: donated to the children of Sydney by prima ballerina Helene Kirsova (1910-62), with vibrant red seating, climbing nets, recycled railway track and lots of shade
  • Arthur (Paddy) Gray Reserve, Glebe: and urban oasis for wildlife, like blue wrens, which have returned thanks to the native shrubs and plants that populate this park
  • Peace Park, Chippendale: a sustainable park named in favour of nuclear disarmament with underground rainwater tanks, communal verge gardens and fruits trees around the perimeter.

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