Impact of Pop Up Parks on the health of a city centre

How do you measure the overall impact of temporary installations in a city centre? If the temporary installation is a park do these offer the same benefits as permanent parks or do they serve different benefits? Some of the main advantages of creating temporary urban spaces and parks is that they can be located where permanent spaces cannot, they are reactive in that they react to an opportunity or problem as opposed to a perceived future issue and they are quick to install and quick to remove. But they still provide a similar service to permanent parks in creating an oasis of green in a busy environment. So do the effect the health of a city centre and how do they compare to permanent parks. Health in this context is defined in two ways as personal physical and mental health of city users as well as a larger community and business health.
For this first we can look at an interesting article from the New York Academy of Medicine published last year that researched the impact of a park in Los Altos on mental and physical health. Physical health improved as the park encouraged greater physical activity as a site for outdoor play and exercise. Convenience was a major reason with a number of clubs being formed to specifically use the space. On average physical activity increased by 30 minutes a week. Mental health is harder to measure but the results show that as well as more exercise residents spent less time on screens (30 minutes a week average) and more time socialising in the park. The logical assumption is that this would reduce anxiety and feelings of alienation. (D. Salvo et al. J Urban Health 2017)
For the second we can consider how increased dwell time could have a positive effect on the wider community. For this we can look at observations from the implementation of a park in Newcastle over the summer. According to Deborah Salvo in the previous paragraph a pocket park attracts a far higher density of people than a normal park. This encourages engagement and interaction thereby bringing communities together. In a city the size of Newcastle this had the effect of creating a recognisable meeting place where people where happy to hang out and wait for the friends and greatly increase the opportunities for chance encounters. In short it changed a retail street into a social hub, increasing dwell time and engagement. This result then impacts on the economic health of a city as greater dwell time leads to greater engagement and spend. The opportunity to relax in a city centre is key to wanting to spend more time and appreciate what a city has to offer. Give a little to gain a lot. Finally how does this compare with permanent parks. There are no research projects to fall back on but location is the key. Both types of parks are used for physical activity but Pop Up Parks reach a different part of the population, being specifically beneficial for children and families. Pop Up Parks when they are located nearer to central amenities offer more opportunities to socialise, especially informal socialising. This, the glue which holds together communities is in short supply in the modern city.
Jeremy Rucker, October 2018

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