New Urban “Pocket Park” Opens in East Village

The 2,500-square-foot mini park provides a safe space for downtown residents to play and soak in the sun, despite being in a densely populated urban neighborhood

A formerly small, plain parking lot in downtown San Diego’s East Village community has now been transformed into a mini park where residents can gather and play in the heart of a very busy urban area.

The innovative little “pocket park,” as it’s called by developers, is snugly situated in a 2,500-square-foot space between buildings at 13th Avenue and J Street, right next to the Mission Café at 1250 J Street.

It officially opened to the public on Sunday and quickly filled with families enjoying the extra space to play and mingle.

The new outdoor amenity came to be through collaborative efforts between the Downtown San Diego Partnership, the East Village Association, HP Investors – which owns the property and donated the space – and RAD Lab, a downtown architecture and design firm.

Kris Michell, president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, said the park is a prime example of a creative community project.

“It’s really the backyard for people who live in East Village. We don’t have enough parks for them, as well as places for their kids to play. This is a place for kids to play and a place to recreate,” Michell told NBC 7.

Despite its small size, Michell said the park should be able to serve hundreds of East Village residents daily. She said the modern space was specifically designed to reflect an urban vibe. It includes wooden pallets to climb and sit on, as well as big letters painted on the ground to mimic a word search game.

“It’s an urban, gritty feel,” she explained. “The pallets are by design. There’s an herb garden in the back and there’s a word search in there so you see the words up and down, high and low, so it gives kids an opportunity to play here and find the words.”

Michell said the pocket park project was all about making the most out of limited space in the busy urban neighborhood.

“We re-imagined space in downtown because space is at a premium. When you take a look at spaces between the buildings, you get to say, ‘Wow, is the best use?’” she said. “We want to take a look at spaces and, as we say it, where others see asphalt, we see opportunity.”

The maximize this particular space, HP Investors financed RAD Lab’s re-design and improvements of the area, taking into consideration community input from the East Village Association.

The park is privately funded, Michell said, and the space will be overseen by the Downtown Partnership's Clean & Safe team to ensure it is well-maintained and safe.

Back in March, the organizations behind the urban space transformation project hung a blue idea board on the parking lot gate asking the question: “What Do You Want Here?”

In dozens of blank spots below, East Village residents put in their two cents, suggesting ideas like a dog park or children’s play area.

Michell said some of those suggestions got pretty outrageous – such as building a mini stadium or snake pit – but in the end, most of the community input was for a park.

Now, three months later, the small space is just that – something practical for East Village residents.

“This is their backyard. It’s a community effort,” added Michell.

In the future, the Downtown San Diego Partnership plans to continue to look for more urban spaces to transform in downtown San Diego.

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