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A Brief Parklet History

The term parklet originated in San Francisco to describe the process of converting a parking space into a small public “park.” Parklets are, in effect, an extension of the sidewalk into the street, exchanging private auto space for additional public gathering space.

ReBar, a San Francisco art studio, launched the first parklet in San Francisco in 2005—it was open for just two hours and is credited with launching PARK(ing) Day. PARK(ing) Day is now a worldwide annual event on the third Friday of September during which anyone can create a one-day parklet. The enormous success of PARK(ing) Day led San Francisco planners to consider parklets that would last an entire summer or even longer, and the city adopted a formal “Pavement to Parks” program in 2009. New York City toyed around with similar concepts, launching a “Pavement to Plaza” program in 2008 and “Green Light for Midtown” in 2009. Cities including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Chicago have since launched either individual parklets or full-fledged parklet programs.

oakland
photo by: City of Oakland

chicago
photo by: Bridgette Meinhold, inhabitat.com

Each city has put its own spin on the parklet concept. Los Angeles closed an entire underutilized segment of street to create the Sunset Triangle Plaza. L.A. has also introduced outdoor gyms in parklets, what they call “active” parklets.

San Francisco has built mobile parklets like the Parkmobile and has implemented parklet corridors that stretch for blocks.


The Parkmobile is a mobile parklet in San Francisco
photo by: Green Futures Lab


photo by: Green Futures Lab

Montreal and Portland allow some parklets to be extended sidewalk cafes, allowing both food and liquor table service. Other cities, including San Francisco and Philadelphia (and now Seattle!), treat parklets as public spaces, open to everyone at all times. Some cities allow parklets on nearly all streets, while New York generally limits them to one-way streets and other streets with lower speed limits and less traffic. Unlike parklets in most other cities, the two parklets in Vancouver, B.C., are located on city property and maintained by the city as well.

 

photo credit: http://www.vanalen.org/uploads/slides/program/K_Vancouver-BC-Picnurbia-Robson-Square1369417471.jpg
Parklet in Vancouver, B.C.

Although a recent innovation, parklets have a bright future around the world, with new cities joining the parklet trend all the time. Be sure to keep your eye out for Seattle’s three pilot parklets, and contact SDOT to share any feedback.


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