Small But Mighty

Pocket Parks Make Neighborhoods Come Alive

Here are five of our favorites.

By Kim Doleatto May 10, 2021 Published in the May-June 2021 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Image: Jenny Acheson

From the street, pocket parks might not look like much. Smaller than your average park, they’re usually no more than a quarter of an acre, the size of a few house lots. They’re most often located in high-density urban areas surrounded by buildings or houses and lack amenities like restrooms or designated parking spots. What they do have is magic.

Pocket parks are ideal for a workday lunch break, a stroll with your dog or just to decompress for a few minutes in the hustle of a busy day. And they are vital in helping to create a sense of community.

The Rosemary District, for example, has grown exponentially over the last decade, emerging as a hip neighborhood with an unbeatable close-to-downtown Sarasota location. But while increased density and mixed commercial and residential use zoning have paved the way for hotels, luxury condos and unique live-work spaces, residents are missing green spaces.

Plans for a pocket park in the Rosemary District stretch back to 2000, when the city created a downtown master plan with the help of architect and urban planner Andres Duany. Rosemary District Association members have lobbied for one since 2016 and, together with the City of Sarasota, they purchased a plot near the intersection of Central Avenue and Boulevard of the Arts earlier this year. (The city contributed $890,000; donors raised an additional $120,000.) Construction is slated to begin next year.

What might the park eventually look like? Plans are still in the works. But we hope it emulates the best attributes of five of our favorite local pocket parks.

Sapphire Shores Park 

5015 Sun Circle, Sarasota

This park, located north of downtown, stretches along a sliver of Sarasota bayfront. Park your bike and sit on a bench in the shade for a front row seat to a blazing sunset, or cast a rod out into the bay. Kids can enjoy the slide and swing set, and a stroll on the walking path. You’ll be in a better mood in seconds.

Laurel Park

1725 Laurel St., Sarasota

It’s easy to miss this little park on a one-way street. Hugged by colorful apartments and an iron gate, it has a tiny path, benches, a play structure and a small sand pit for kids. (You can expect to find a child’s used scooter or tricycle there for public use.) It’s anchored by a large, central gazebo surrounded by lush landscaping, perfect for a picnic.

The Park at Olde Westfield

On Sixth Avenue West between 27th Street West and 30th Street West, Bradenton

A short distance from downtown Bradenton, this cozy hideaway has a nice gazebo, two jungle gyms for kids and picnic tables where mature live oaks and palms offer shade for a pleasant lunch. It used to be referred to as “Watertower Park,” because it’s located under one of the city’s water towers, but the Olde Westfield Neighborhood Association petitioned the city to rename it in 2006.

28th Street Park 

Near the intersection of 12th Avenue West and 28th Street West, Bradenton

Perched on the corner of a quiet residential neighborhood, this park is ideal for a family cookout, thanks to public grills, a gazebo and picnic tables shaded by trees gilded with Spanish moss. An open grassy space is ideal for a game of catch.

East Blalock Park 

300 S. Nokomis Ave., Venice

On the island of Venice, this park is also known as the Cultural Campus, because it includes the Venice Community Center, Venice Art Center and the historic Triangle Inn, which houses the Venice Museum and Archives. It’s a relaxing nook with picnic tables and a drinking fountain near all the Mediterranean charm for which the island is known.

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