Thomas Hoving 1931-2009: Creator of Pocket Parks



When in New York I usually stay at a hotel on 51st Street, around the corner from TreeHugger HQ the New York Discovery offices. Across the street is the most beautiful, serene little park with a big waterfall and lots of green. I often wonder how it got there.

It turns out that Thomas Hoving, most famous for being director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, left quite a legacy from his short career as Parks Commissioner in 1965 and 1966. He promoted the idea of Pocket parks. George Prochnik quotes him in the Times:

"Utopia would mean a park -- some large, some small -- every four or five blocks," he declared. These micro-oases could spring up in the middle of dense, socially fractious neighborhoods where, he believed, they had the potential to "create wider ripples of reform."

The first was Paley Park, on 53rd Street, built in 1967.


Jack Manning, New York Times

Greenacre Park came after Hoving was gone, but had the same purpose and succeeds for the same reasons, according to the Project for Public Spaces:

1. It is located directly on the street so that people are attracted to look and to go in.
2. There is good, reasonably priced food.
3. There are movable chairs and tables so people can be comfortable and can have some control over where they sit.
4. A waterfall provides a focal point and a dramatic reason to visit the park and its noise creates a sense of quiet and privacy.
5. There is shade in the summer from the trees yet their thin structure allows a beautiful dappled light to pass through.
6. Overhead heat lamps on the upper level heat the park in cool weather.

It is still (beautifully) maintained by the Greenacre foundation, set up by Abby Rockefeller.

Protchnik think we should use this recession to revisit Hoving's dreams.

....Think of all the excess real estate we've got now, casualties of the boom gone bust. Just as pop-up stores have become a hot trend in retail, why not create pop-up pocket parks on the grounds of New York's tenant-less buildings -- and maybe some pop-up interior Zen gardens in their barren lobbies as well?

Not a bad idea. Thomas Hoving, dead at 78, Times obituary here.