Urban parklet concept

Architectural Record recently wrote about a noticeable trend on the streets of San Francisco: nearly two dozen mini-parks, or “parklets,” have appeared in neighbourhoods across the city, sprouting up atop parking spaces in front of shops, cafés and galleries. Reclaiming the street for pedestrians, these small-scale interventions come in the forms of driftwood benches, scrap-wood playgrounds, and pleasant combinations of bike racks, planters, chairs and tables.

The parklet phenomenon is part of San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program, established in 2009. Inspired by Gansevoort Plaza, a public seating-area that popped up in a busy intersection of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, project manager Andre Power began experimenting with concrete barriers, potted plants and tables and chairs to build mini parks in the middle of San Francisco’s bustling streets.

In light of his first successes, Power and his team held a public call for proposals for parklets throughout the city. To date, they have secured 60 permits distributed through San Francisco City Planning, Public Works and MTA.

The urban parklet concept was met with initial skepticism, some fearing that the proximity between foot and car traffic would be unsafe. But Powers and his team pushed through, exhibiting an emergent approach to city planning in which full-scale prototypes and changeable designs are worked directly into the urban fabric. The same approach can be seen in New York City: under Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, New York’s MTA has been integrating subway countdown clocks, bike lanes and other experimental small-scale interventions instead of trying to lock down sweeping permanent changes.

Likewise, the parklets in San Francisco have an experimental streak to them. Designed by local architects, the urban parks come in various shapes and sizes, arranging bike racks, garden trellises, planters, and seating in defiantly unique combinations. The parklet in front of Terroir wine shop is slated to double as a bocce ball court.

After one year, each parklet will be up for reevaluation at a public hearing. The one-year permits have enabled the Pavement to Parks program to slip past City bureaucracy. Moreover, these miniature city refuges flourish with a creative spirit often seen in temporary built projects.

The only rule the City can enforce is that these spaces must be kept open to the public. Thus, these parklets are being built independently, quickly and inexpensively and popping up almost overnight. The phenomenon is moving to other cities too, reclaiming the streets of Vancouver, Philadelphia and Chicago for pedestrians, one parklet at a time.

Photos via Architectural Record

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