Greening the Urban Landscape, One Civic Plaza and Pocket Park at a Time


Greening the Urban Landscape, One Civic Plaza and Pocket Park at a Time

Monday, December 6, 2021

By Matt Carlile and Devon Moody

The impact of green space in the urban environment is huge, even if its acreage isn’t. From pocket parks to plazas, greening city spaces represents a significant opportunity to impact health and equity and add to the social fabric of the urban environment.


Two examples are about to take shape in Iowa, transforming downtown Ames and the heart of Des Moines. In Ames, the Confluence team is transforming an underutilized surface parking lot into a year-round community asset with a focus on public art, small gatherings, water features, and even winter ice skating.

Great public spaces are always the result of great public engagement – if you want to know what people want, the first steps is to listen. Confluence developed the initial concept for the 1-acre Ames plaza through a robust engagement period where residents identified water features, space for food trucks, and small festivals – along with the public facilities to support them – as top priorities. We can’t wait for construction to start next year on this project.


Thirty-seven miles away in Des Moines, a brand-new pocket park will infill the former Younkers department store site, nearly 7 years after the 2014 fire that brought the building to the ground. The site carries historical significance for Iowans as the longtime home of Younkers, a department store chain founded in 1856 in Keokuk, Iowa – many people still remember what splendor the site once had.

A physical scare was left by the fire – a literal 12-foot-deep hole with fencing surrounding it, whilst also cutting off Walnut Street, a primary corridor through downtown. As of June 2021, work has already begun to heal this blight with much-needed amenities for the estimated 14,000 residents and visitors of downtown Des Moines. In addition to proposed landscaped green space and raised flower beds, amenities will include sports courts, climbable sculptures, porch swing seating, art, dedicated pet relief area, and an interactive lighting installation – creating an inviting outdoor experience to complement downtown and meet long-term goals established by local Des Moines government.

Our team is passionate about the urban experience in our communities - especially as it relates to Downtown districts and long-term plans for improvement. Public parks and open spaces are an integral part of more equitable, healthful cities for generations to come.

So, as cities across the Midwest commit resources to more equitable green space in our cities, Confluence is proud to partner with them to create meaningful places that enhance the public experience.