Mexico City’s “Public Pocket Park” Strategy Renovates Urban Spaces

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Photo credit left corner: Jose Luis Rubio, El Sol de Mexico

Public spaces play an important role in the social, urban and economic makeup of cities. Many Latin American cities are embarked in the task of renovating their public spaces. In Mexico City, the local government established the Public Space Authority, whose purpose is to plan and manage such spaces. AEP is implementing an innovative citywide strategy focused on renovating small open areas known as public pocket parks.

In 2012 EMBARQ Mexico joined in the ECPA Urban Planning Initiative led by the American Planning Association (APA). It developed an innovative pilot project to counter the loss of parks and recreation areas in Mexico City by creating a new type of open space called pocket park. These parks also serve as case study for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) strategies. The purpose of the project is to improve quality of life, to stimulate community integration, and to build pleasant walking spaces. The Public Pocket Park Strategy is concurrent with EMBARQ Mexico’s promotion of a network of public spaces that supports the city’s expanding public transit systems. It became immediately apparent that the community had to be involved for an endeavor of this magnitude to be successful.

For this reason, EMBARQ Mexico developed the Human-Centered Design (HCD) ­­—a multi-stakeholder approach to engage the public in the creation of pocket parks from inception. HCD puts aside all assumptions with regard to what the communal needs are and how a public space should be designed. It is up to the community to decide what its public space will look like. In other words, in the HCD approach community members become community experts, deciphering the vision that will drive park design. This approach provides public space design with an entirely new perspective and instills a sense of pride and ownership in the community. HCD-based initiatives may become more sustainable as a result, given the community is committed to the proposed design and responsible for its success. Mexico City’s Public Pocket Park Strategy is unprecedentedly innovative—combining urban planning with community outreach is uncommon for local governments.

The ECPA Urban Planning Initiative led by the APA is imparting training in HCD, including a toolkit for community participation in small-scale urban projects. The initiative has the potential to be expanded and replicated nationwide. A network of small public spaces can be substantially quicker and cheaper to build and would encourage sustainable mobility across the city, persuading people to walk, bike or socially interact. Ultimately, this ECPA initiative will lead to higher quality of life for residents and more resilient and sustainable cities.