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Urban Pocket Parks Pop Up In Mesa

Pocket Park
(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
Zac Koceja, a landscape architect for Mesa’s engineering department, was the initial designer of this pocket park and the project manager through its construction.

Most great cities have great parks. Chicago has Millennial Park, the Big Apple has Central Park and, now, downtown Phoenix is reinvesting in Hance Park.

But, not all green spaces have to be so grand.

Mesa is picking up a on a national trend of creating small urban pocket parks dotted throughout the city. There are five pocket parks in the city now, and another, Fountain Plaza, recently opened on the corner of Mesa Drive and Southern Avenue.

“Before, this was an old Texaco gas station,” said Zac Koceja, a landscape architect for Mesa’s engineering department. He was the initial designer of this pocket park and the project manager through its construction.

The park is 5,000 square feet with a fountain, shade trees, a covered bus stop and grinding rails, boxes and ramps for skateboarding. Next door to a mini mart, across the street from a gas station and a Jack in the Box, Fountain Plaza doesn’t exactly fit in with its surroundings.

A few years ago, Mesa started an improvement project along Mesa Drive and bought up several parcels, including this one, as part of it, Koceja said.

“When we were first looking at these areas, a lot of people, a lot of the public response that we got out of these meetings is ‘What’s the city going to do with that corner parcel? Are they going to sell it to a gas station or a check-cashing place?’” Koceja said.

Instead, they built parks – on lots many wouldn’t have thought were big enough for much of anything.

“For quite a few years it was just a barren dirt lot, and so, to see something like that, a very under-utilized space in the city, transform into something three dimensional that the citizens can use, is awesome,” he said. “It’s very rewarding.”

The other five urban pocket parks are located along the new extension of the light rail in Mesa, on Southern Avenue, and in the Fiesta District.
“What we’re finding in the city of Mesa and, I think, nationally, there’s a trend of finding these under-utilized city parcels, city-owned land, and really, kind of re-purposing them for public open space,” Koceja said.

He said there is less green space in the older, more urban areas of the city, and the city is intentionally putting pocket parks like this where they’re needed.

“They do have parks in this area, but they’re pretty far apart, spread apart, so this is really kind of fills the voids and the gap there,” he said.

It also creates a walkable community and gives the neighborhood a place they can call their own, he said.

“You can find these opportunities for public green space anywhere, even in higher-density or urban settings,” he said. “I just think it was really awesome that the city was able to see value in a needed public green space right here on a very busy street corner.”

News The Show
Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.