The importance of natural spaces and pocket and pop-up parks projects

Today more than 80% of the UK’s population live in towns and cities. This growing trend is reflected across the world. Urban areas (housing, transport routes and industrial areas) now cover 10% of England. As global urbanisation grows so does the pressure on natural spaces. Green space, parks, gardens, rivers, allotments, woodlands are all important ingredients that balance the built environment. Vacant pocket spaces exist in every town and city from Mumbai to Montreal and Lima to London, these spaces are ripe for small but significant interventions and transformation. Evidence of why we need these spaces and the benefits of these interventions is outlined below. 

Health and wellbeing

Insufficient physical activity is a significant issue for young children today. In England 23% of the
youngest children, those just starting school, are either overweight or obese.
Pop up Parks Knee High Design Challenge Phase 3 Report (September 2013)

Since the 1970s the area in which children roam without adults has decreased by almost 90%.
Natural Childhood, Moss, S (2012), The National Trust. Available at: 

In North America just 37% of children play outside everyday. Only 7% of children under the age of 10 are allowed to go out on their own.
ParticipACTION 2015. More at: 

Research into the causes of social stress, which has been associated with urban environments, has found that an important determinant is the degree which people feel they have control over their immediate environment.
Fortress Britain’: high security, insecurity and the challenge of preventing harm, Anna Minton and Jody Aked. Available at:

Active lifestyles: Pocket and Pop up Parks close to where people live, benefit the health of everyone by creating venues for active lifestyle choices and physical challenge across the life course.
Mental wellbeing: everyone close to Pocket and Pop up Parks has the opportunity for contact with natural environments and can benefit from their calming and restorative effect helping to improve mental wellbeing
Healthy communities: Pocket Parks helps to create healthy resilient communities and provides life supporting systems.
Children who live close to natural environments tend to have higher levels of physical activity and are less likely to experience an increase in BMI over time. 
Bell, Wilson and Liu (2008) Neighborhood greenness and 2-year changes in body mass index of children and youth. Davidson K and Lawson C (2006) Do attributes of the physical environment influence children‘s level of physical activity? International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. 

Outdoor learning and its benefits

Pop-up and Pocket Parks increase access to natural adventure space, which has been found to support children and young people's physical development, emotional and mental health & well-being, and social and educational development.
9a WARD THOMPSON, C., TRAVLOU, P. & ROE, J. 2006. Free range teenagers: the role of wild adventure space in young people’s lives: final report. Natural England.

Pop-up and Pocket Parks are used by schools to learn outside the classroom. Evidence suggests that learning outside the classroom in natural environments provides the following cognitive and non-cognitive benefits:

  • Increasing knowledge and understanding: e.g. students performed better in reading, mathematics, science and social studies and showed greater motivation for studying science.
  • Developing Skills: e.g. skills ranging from the technical to the social were identified as outcomes, particularly when the learning in natural environments was integrated with the everyday school curriculum. Teachers also benefitted, becoming more enthusiastic about teaching and bringing innovative teaching strategies to the classroom. Schools benefitted from teachers taking more ownership and leadership in school change.
  • Changing attitudes and behaviours: e.g. learning outside the classroom in natural environments (such as those that take place in school gardens, local parks, farm visits and residential centres) helped make core subjects rich and relevant and got apathetic students excited about learning.
  • Health and Well-being: e.g. exposure to the natural environment can lower the effects of various mental health issues that can make it difficult for students to pay attention in the classroom. These mental and physical health benefits are closely linked to other impacts such as improvements in feelings of self-worth and self-efficacy.

Dillon and Dickie (2012) Learning in the Natural Environment: Review of social and economic benefits and barriers NECR092

Physical activity has been linked to positive learning benefits including academic achievement and cognition; learning outdoors tends to involve more physical activity than learning in the classroom.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance; (2010) Booth et al (2013) Associations between objectively measured physical activity and academic attainment in adolescents from a UK cohort, British Journal of Sports medicine SHEU Literature search: Physical Activity and Academic Achievement 2013

Biodiversity and geodiversity
  • National Pollinator Strategy: ‘Bees Needs’–creating the best possible conditions within Pocket Parks for bees and other insects to flourish; and raising awareness of ‘Bees Needs’ for food and a home.
  • Integrated delivery for species: within the overall management of the Pop-up/Pocket Park.
  • Ecological Networks: contributing to natural corridors linking urban and rural areas (and between sites at a more localised level), helping wildlife move freely across and within urban areas; forming stepping stones (in-between islands of semi-natural habitat) and increasing connectedness and facilitating the movement of species. E.g. naturalising rivers (de-culverting) and increasing connectedness along rivers for both wildlife and recreation.
  • Local Nature Reserves: some Pop-up/Pocket Parks declared as Local Nature Reserves, providing havens for wildlife, opportunities for outdoor learning and reconnecting people and nature.
  • Volunteering: increased numbers of nature conservation volunteers (contributes to Biodiversity 2020 targets)
  • Priority Habitats: some Pop-up/Pocket Parks creating and restoring priority habitats (contributes to Biodiversity 2020 targets).
  • Geodiversity: somePop-up/Pocket Parks enabling geodiversity to be conserved and enjoyed.

Supporting local growth and economy
  • Quality areas add to the attractiveness of an area and the well-being of communities, thereby contributing to their attractiveness to potential investors for their investment.
  • As part of wider high quality Green Infrastructure, Pop-up/Pocket Parks contribute positively to the local economy through encouraging increased building occupancy rates, enabling higher housing densities, increased local taxation revenue, business expansion or start up from increased visitor spend, increased productivity of employees due to physical and mental health improvements and employment from increased services provision.

Evidence for the above outcomes from green infrastructure is provided in research by the UK government and Natural England. Green Infrastructure’s contribution to economic growth: a review 2013 and NERR057 edition 1 – Microeconomic Evidence for the Benefits of Investment in the Environment 2 (MEBIE2),