Svolou’s Neighborhood Pocket Park was established as a local pocket park created by and for citizens that offers educational activities.
It was developed by the Alexandros Svolous Neighborhood Initiative in collaboration with the Municipality of Thessaloniki to counter the lack of green, vital public spaces common in many modern Balkan and southern Europe cities.
Remodeling the site of 413m², located in the heart of Thessaloniki, into a pocket park (piece of land under 600m2 between apartment buildings) seemed like the perfect solution to (re-)activate the local neighborhood and re-claim public but abandoned land for and by citizens with dense construction.
The Initiative aims to restore the neighborhood institution through collective actions, various events and workshops, film screenings, games for children and adults, by turning the space into a green and creative place. The actions are being organized by the members of the initiative without any support by the municipality. As first step, soil was moved to the site, water supply and then a vegetable garden were created. Today, the remodeling of the space is one step further with natural rocks and stone benches to shape the surrounding area and the corridors for easier access for citizens.
Pocket parks upgrade the urban center, improve the microclimate of the neighborhood, host birds and small animals and of course connect people of the neighborhood who now have a place for recreation nearby. In Svolou, not only neighbors re-connect through recreational or educational activities, but also strong ties between the administrative community were created.
- Support by municipality (in kind contribution – water and soil)
- Network of local shops for cooperation (financial support)
- Investment: 4.000 € (earned by implementing cultural events)
Evidence of success
The initiative succeeded to create a green oasis in the centre of Thessaloniki with bottom-up and participatory processes in an urban void owned by the Municipality and another public body. The park has grown steadily since 2018 through DIY techniques, self-funding and volunteers and is frequently used by citizens. Since 2018, more than 120 actions (construction and participatory workshops, seminars, cultural events) have been completed, with more than 3.000 people participating.
The area is being owed by two public bodies. After our effort we convinced the government to transfer the rights of use to the Municipality of Thessaloniki. The PP is being funded by crowd sourcing. There is not a possibility for an informal group to obtain money for actions by legal ways.
Potential for learning or transfer
The PP is of interest for cities with dense construction and few available public spaces. While authorities and citizens cannot face environmental, social and climate change issues properly, the PP helps to regenerate the modern urban environment by using small plots of land that would otherwise remain abandoned. PP might be difficult to be widely replicated. The initiators follow activist methods, they plan and implement their vision even without initial support by local authorities. The informal structure that the initiative has “offers” us a safety not to be accused of our public actions. We create a positive social impact but there is no legislative path to implement our actions legally. We implement bottom up actions enlighten in parallel legal gaps that could be filled by laws that embracing civic participatory and inclusive actions. The team consists of young people and neighbours. The local authorities should and must support the practice (tools, other resources).