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San Francisco Parklets – New Places for People

Apr 27, 2012
San Francisco Parklets – New Places for People

by Kate Howe, Urban Planner, VIA Architecture
Photo: Inner Sunset’s Arizmendi Bakery parklet

San Francisco’s parklet phenomenon is rippling out from the City’s tourist and downtown core. Last Friday, I attended a parklet ribbon-cutting on Mission Street in the Excelsior, the first of its kind in this South San Francisco neighborhood where access  to parks and open space is limited. Now, instead of two metered parking spaces along their busy commercial strip, there are benches, gardens, and art. The construction Excelsior’s parklet can be credited to a support from the SF Mayor’s Office of  Economics and Workforce Development. A grant went to two local non-profit groups, Excelsior Action Group (EAG) and Out of Sight (OOS) which used the grant money to engage 50 high school students as part of an after school program in the parklet’s initial concept design, and community outreach. The designs were then realized by Craig Hollow with Sagan Piechota Architecture who planned and supervised students in parklet construction over a series of weekends and their very rainy spring break. The result on the street is a demonstration of how tenacity and commitment can affect positive change.

Later that weekend, I also joined a San Francisco Bike Coalition tour that further explored parklets as a community-driven, quick method for neighborhood improvement. In the Inner Sunset, our group heard from a community activist who rallied his neighborhood and raised funds to place a parklet in front of a popular bakery (Arizmendi at 19th and Irving). He noted that few are now missing the parking spaces, and the public space now anchors the retail street. He sees the parklet as a first step for more street pedestrianizations, and has his eyes set on their nearby streetcar stop.

Outer Sunset’s Trouble Coffee parklet

My favorite parklet of all, Outer Sunset’s Trouble Coffee, hosts a remote gathering space of scavenged materials from driftwood and old fences, to a full sized tree spirited from City landscape crews.  The owner commended her parklet for its galvanizing effects, not only on her business (she saw her investment return in two months of sales) but also a place for neighborhood gathering.

As parklets spring up in a neighborhood near you, folks witness how much more can be done with 288 square feet of street.  According to Paul Chasan, the planner who joined our tour, the City is now experiencing growing pains as they try to keep pace with demand. Parklet popularity is also causing some internal battles as some question how many are enough, and when do we reach saturation- while public works is worried about how to ensure good maintenance.

As the next wave of parklets is constructed, I am, for one, hoping that creativity remains its driving force and that the City will bring its lessons learned to bare for an improved, affordable, and fast process that gives the streets back to the people.