A parklet is a small segment of the right-of-way that has been converted from private automobile use to a public space for all to enjoy. Parklets are generally one or two parking spaces long, although they can also stretch for a block or more.
We live in a city with a limited number of neighborhood parks and open spaces: parklets provide valuable privately-funded and privately-maintained public spaces for people to read, sip a cup of coffee or enjoy a bite to eat, and socialize. Parklets convert an on-street parking space (or spaces) into a community gathering place, creating more vibrant neighborhoods and activating our streets.
The origins are grass-roots. Local businesses interested in building parklets began approaching the City in 2011. The City was receptive to the idea, but lacked a program (or any guidelines and requirements) for parklet development.
SDOT staff met with staff from both Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Department of Planning and Development to explore the possibility of establishing a program. In the middle of 2012 an interdepartmental group recommended a pilot program to the Mayor and City Council, and they gave the green light. The three parklets in the pilot program will launch this summer, and SDOT anticipates completing evaluations and making recommendations about whether to proceed by the end of the year. A permanent program would launch in early 2014.
SDOT doesn’t build parklets. If you see a parklet in Seattle it is there only because a sponsor—a local business, resident, or community organization—approached SDOT and applied to construct a public parklet in that location. The City might reject an application if it deems the site inappropriate (utilities, drainage, etc.), finds insufficient parking supply in the neighborhood, or discovers a lack of community support. But SDOT never imposes a parklet on a neighborhood or even suggests a location; parklets are always community-initiated, neighborhood-driven, privately-funded projects.
Yes, parklets are free and open for everyone to responsibly enjoy, and will prominently feature “Public Parklet” signs.
Parklets are not permanently affixed to the roadway or sidewalk in any fashion. However, if the parklet is well-maintained the sponsor can apply for annual renewals. SDOT will carefully consider any community feedback when evaluating a renewal application, and may require replacement of parklet elements experiencing routine wear-and-tear.
If the program moves beyond the pilot phase, anyone would be able to sponsor a parklet. SDOT would recommend all sponsors consider hiring professional design services to ensure the application meets safety, accessibility, and design standards.
No. Some cities treat parklets like extended sidewalk cafes, but Seattle considers parklets public spaces. Sponsoring businesses can only bus tables as part of their obligation to maintain a clean and safe parklet.
Sorry, but no. Parklets are public spaces, just like a plaza or a park. Now, if you find a sidewalk café near a parklet—like at Montana Bar on Capitol Hill—you can have a drink in the café instead.
Streets with a good amount of existing pedestrian activity are superior parklet candidates, as are retail corridors. But the only hard-and-fast rules are that parklets are not allowed on streets with a speed limit over 30 miles per hour or on streets that don’t have a permanent parking lane. Also, steep streets with a grade above 5 percent are tough for parklets.
Although each program is slightly different, cities across North America have launched parklet programs, including New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Montreal, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Oakland. Parklets are also popping up in cities around the world. Check out our parklet gallery and parklet history for more information.
Balancing uses of the right-of-way is always tricky, and parking supply would likely be a factor in SDOT’s initial screen of parklet applications in a permanent program. We have good parking data for neighborhoods throughout the city, and we will use that to help make decisions.
Part of developing recommendations for a permanent program would include thinking carefully about the right density of parklets in an area. For example, neighborhoods with less public open space might be able to support more parklets than neighborhoods that have a lot of available open space. So the short answer is “yes, probably,” but look for more on this in the coming months.
Contact Jennifer Wieland at the Public Space Management Program.
Parklet costs include design, materials, and construction expenses as well as application and permit fees. Together these usually total around $15,000. Successful parklets such as the one pictured below this question, however, can cost as little as $10,000. The City of Seattle is currently exploring grant opportunities to assist sponsors in covering a portion of their initial costs. Potential sponsors shouldn’t be afraid to be creative, and might be able to find design consultants willing to work pro bono for the chance to be involved in the program. Also, people around the country have been using fundraising tools like Kickstarter to raise money to build parklets!
I’m a business owner who loves my neighborhood and would really like to provide my community with a parklet, but the initial costs are kind of intimidating. Do businesses sponsoring parklets tend to see any revenue increases?
While there haven’t been any comprehensive studies yet, individual businesses have reported as much as a 20 percent increase in annual revenue. San Francisco has conducted a Parklet Impact Study that includes some interesting findings about pedestrian traffic and business activity at three parklet locations. Contact SDOT for more information. We might even be able to put you in touch with existing parklet sponsors in Seattle and other cities.
The three parklet sponsors in the pilot program must post public notices in their windows for two weeks, and must mail a notice to all addresses within 200 feet of the proposed parklet. SDOT will then consider any feedback from these notices prior to final approval. If the program becomes permanent, SDOT might also require sponsors to provide signed letters and other documentation demonstrating active community support for a parklet.
All parklet sponsors must carry $1 million in liability insurance. This is a minimal additional cost for businesses or organizations that already have liability insurance, although they must add the City as an "additional insured." Contact SDOT for further information.
Sure, and people would probably appreciate that at certain times of the year! Guidelines for permanent overhead elements don’t exist yet, but they would be included in a permanent program. And umbrellas are certainly fine, as long as they don’t hang out over the street and are 8 feet or higher above the sidewalk.
Parklets must meet a variety of design and accessibility criteria. Contact SDOT for detailed guidelines, but most importantly, all parklets must:
Mobile parklets exist in other cities and SDOT will consider them in the future if the parklet program becomes permanent. At the moment we are focusing solely on fixed-location parklets.