Popup Pocket Park - 8th and Van Buren | Topeka, KS

We all recognize great cities when we see them. Vibrant cultural centers like Austin, Denver, and Portland attract and retain talent, diversity, and innovation. People love working in, living in, and visiting great cities, but what specific traits make a good city a great one? Alongside thriving economies, well-functioning city government, public libraries and museums, a strong public education system, and access to health care, we believe there to be an additional factor that matters: accessible green space.

Topeka Landscape recently had the honor of partnering with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center on the Better Block initiative. The partnership allowed us to create a linear pocket park that temporarily transformed the SW 200 and SW 300 blocks of 8th Street into a space for families and individuals to enjoy.

This project started as a mere exploration of possibilities and ended up being something truly lovely. Here’s what we learned:

Parks Are Safe Spaces to Learn

Learning isn’t an activity that mandates a classroom setting. In fact, the natural world is a major driver of technological breakthroughs that result from bio-innovation and biomimicry (see cool examples of that here.)

Pictured here are two representatives of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library teaching local kiddos about different kinds of insects like hissing cockroaches and praying mantis. The library also brought supplies for fun art projects that included decorating rocks and build-your-own bookmobiles.

Parks Are Safe Spaces to Engage

Having green spaces to engage in community dialogue, have a picnic with a friend, or host your next work meeting can make a city more desirable and inviting.

Far too often we are stuck in our offices all day, missing the sunshine and fresh air. This pocket park provided the venue for people working in downtown Topeka to step outside, go for a short walk, and spend time in the park. Over the duration of the two weeks, we saw people using the park as a place to eat lunch, read books, confide in friends, and play games like checkers and chess.

Parks Are Safe Spaces to Create

Nature inspires the imagination, allowing us to explore the endless potential that comes from the great outdoors. Parks give people space and freedom to daydream, try new things, and push the limits of their abilities.

The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center brought Fort Boards for kids to use to build anything they could dream up. We enjoyed seeing the kids approach the blocks with creativity, building structures that ranged from silly hats to skyscrapers. One set of kids even build a replica of the Capitol!

A Special Thank You

This project would not have been possible without financial and volunteer support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, the educational programming put together by Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, the dedicated minds and hands at Topeka Landscape, and the visionary thinking of Karl Fundenberger, Andy Fry, and Matthew Messina.

When the minds and hearts of the people are inspired, the community will do amazing things. As Topeka continues to grow and evolve, let’s prioritize the health of its citizens by creating spaces that encourage them to learn, to engage, and to create, because that is what turns a good city into a great city.