Commercial development can often rob a downtown of larger open areas, so public spaces often develop wherever they can — vacant lots, walkways or other unused slots.
That’s where pocket parks come in.
The potential sale of a section of surplus property on University Drive opened an exploration into the potential of pocket parks, State College borough Manager Tom Fountaine said.
The land in question is near the intersection of East Foster Avenue next to the Burger King and is owned by the borough.
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“Pocket parks are pretty common in more urban areas and bigger cities,” environmental coordinator and arborist Alan Sam said during a July 14 Borough Council work session presentation on the parks. “They’re small parks, less than an acre, that are often located in urban areas surrounded by commercial buildings.”
These active public spaces are created in existing public rights of way, he said, and often include such public park staples as landscaping, furnishings, gardens and water features.
Pocket parks are also often used in abandoned or underused property.
“They’re used to fill a void,” Sam said.
Sam indicated several spots around State College that already fit the description of a pocket park, such as the Centennial Walkway opposite McAllister Alley, the seating area outside the Centre Area Transportation Area office on Beaver Avenue, and several flower beds and rain gardens that would otherwise simply be paved over.
The property along University Drive “was one of the areas cited as a good opportunity,” Sam said. “We have to figure out what kind of a facility it could be. There’s no room for parking and there are utilities underground, so it would be difficult to construct something substantial.”
Sam said he had several landscape architecture students look over the area several years ago to determine what would be appropriate for the land. The idea of a basketball court has come up several times, he said.
However, it could be several years before any development is seen in that area, he said.
A proposal to sell the land to the highest bidder had been in place, Fountaine said, but council wanted a report on pocket parks before any sale was approved.
“No further action is scheduled on the land pending a follow-up on the parks report by the council,” he said.
At some point, it will be a topic for discussion, he added, possibly during budget talks.