Tactical Urbanism: The Transformation of a Parking Spot into a Pocket Patio

First Pocket Patio installed outside of Royal Blue Grocery on South Congress in Austin, Texas   

First Pocket Patio installed outside of Royal Blue Grocery on South Congress in Austin, Texas


Last week, Terra Dura was lucky enough to attend Austin Design Week, the first ever week long event celebrating design and art in Austin through a series of workshops, classes, and tours.  One of the most intriguing was the session on Tactical Urbanism and the transformation of a parking space into a Pocket Patio.  DWG, the local design firm that has been leading these projects in Austin, was kind enough to lead this workshop and tour, and we felt it was the perfect to share with you.

The Pocket Patio concept isn't new, but it is new to Austin.  Born in San Francisco, the idea is simple......let's reclaim the land utilized for cars and make it into something that can be used by hundreds of people a day.  The execution though, is truly where all of the work comes in.  While DWG has successfully established themselves as the leader in designing and executing Pocket Patios in Austin, we believe the growth in the trend will certainly cause a number of other Landscaping companies to step forward and begin trying to establish themselves in the field as well.

So, what exactly is a Pocket Patio and what defines on?.  What are some of the rules for one in Austin, and can you have your own Pocket Patio at home?  Let's discuss.....

A Pocket Patio is essentially the reclaiming and re-purposing of a space in which the priority of that space becomes community and emphasizes interaction.  So where two parking spaces outside of Royal Blue on Congress were utilized by at most 50 people a day collectively, the space is now utilized by hundreds of people daily.  They gather outside to dine, enjoy their time with friends and a cup of coffee, or perhaps take a meeting outside, rather than in the office.  Yes, the hustle and bustle of Congress continues as you are there, but the joys of being outside in the beautiful weather with the sun far outweighs the office lights and desks that are confining and draining.  

In addition, Pocket Patio design is now effecting the designs of personal patios, as seen here in Houzz.  As you can see, utilizing the space is of utmost importance.  By addressing the needs of the owners and looking at how and why the space will be used, or the Psychology and Sociology of the space as DWG said, you look at not only what it can be, but the who and how as well.

This is great news for those living in Condos, Town homes, or just houses with smaller lots in Austin.  No longer are you limited to looking at your yard, patio, or balcony with sadness because, thanks to art and design inspired groups like Rebar, the design firm responsible for starting the Pocket Patio movement, and DWG, ideas and information are readily available that can be transferred to personal spaces.

Houzz had a great article that we found really brought to light how these large projects can be scaled down to a personal balcony / patio in some of the larger cities.  And because the patios can include permanent structures, and the permitting process for this is already established, the jobs are much easier and faster.  Here you can actually see the transformation of one patio from tired and dated to a modern oasis.  While this yard had permanent structures put in such as the cement wall for the garden, a true Pocket Patio, like those outside Royal Blue, must contain non-permanent structures.  

So how does this apply to Austin and it's growth?  As the population continues to grow, the amount of land becomes more and more limited.  Apartments and Condos grow taller daily, and for those that own or rent downtown, grass is hard to come by.  And while the majority of these come with great views from the patios and balconies, the space is limited, and that makes tapping into the possibilities of the space hard.  It truly takes a trained eye to look at a space and see what it could be, rather than what it is.  Could your balcony contain a garden, seating area, and a water feature to cut down on the noise?  Do you have the ability to include furniture in the design, but not give up the floral and fauna that you want?  What if you wanted to add a vertical garden?  And for those renting, what can be done that can be undone?  The possibilities are truly endless and we are excited to see the growth and expansion of Pocket Patios and to see where this Tactical Urbanism takes Austin over the next decade.  We hope you'll continue to travel with us on this journey as we not only watch, but take part in the Pocket Patio movement.