Reclaim the Streets for Summer

We’ve talked about parklets previously, and you’ve probably seen them in one form or another, as they are popping up more and more. (Learn about parklets in this post, and check out Montreal examples here.) Technically, parklets are for the public – literally, mini resting areas/green spaces that borrow the street for people instead of cars and are free to the public. However,  restaurants create their own versions of parklets in the form of outdoor seating in parking spaces – usually on wood decks at curb height. On my last visit to Montreal I noticed another one, seen below.

See the parklet across the street?

And diagonally across from the restaurant seating, I found an actual parklet. This one was quite simple: benches and planters. This set up gives people a spot to sit and gaze at the architecture, allows for more pedestrian use of the sidewalk, cafe space, and creates a more park like setting on this historic street. What do you think?

A parklet in Old Montreal.

Parklets and outdoor seating areas are reclaiming* the streets for pedestrians, which make summer even more fun (especially for those of us with long, cold winters). Choosing to cater to people rather than automobiles is an important aspect of placemaking, and it can make a big difference a city’s vitality. Seen any lately? If you have, I’d love to see them. Use #presinpink on social media (Twitter, Instagram) to share!

*Reclaiming not to be confused with road construction reclamation. Just a transportation joke for you. haha. 😉

Parklet Sighting in Montreal

What’s lovelier than sitting outside on a warm summer day for lunch or enjoying a drink and your company at the end of the day? Many restaurants, particularly in our cold northern climate, do not have permanent outdoor seating. Why? Because sitting outside is only a good idea for a few months out of the year. For the rest of the year the sidewalks and patios are cold, covered in snow and inhospitable. But, come summertime we want to take advantage of that nice weather and soak it in as much as we can.

Remember learning about parklets? It’s a conversion of parking space (temporary or permanent) into public space. Some are free for the public, outfitted with benches and plantings and designed to be meeting spaces for community members. Restaurants are catching on and creating outdoor dining areas from parking spaces – a twist on the “park” of parklets. While these are clearly affiliated with restaurants (meaning, not free for the public because you need to make a purchase), it’s still a great use of space to bring the community to the street.

These restaurants parklets are from Montreal, Quebec. While they vary in design and style, all are enclosed and encompass part of the sidewalk and parking spaces.

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A casual parklet with pink picnic tables.

This view shows the parklet platform half on the sidewalk, half in the street.

This view shows the parklet platform half on the sidewalk, half in the street.

Enclosed in, metal fence. Across the street is the Old Port of Montreal.

Enclosed in, metal fence. Across the street is the Old Port of Montreal.

Almost completely in the parking space, this parklet dresses up the scene with flower boxes and planting.

Almost completely in the parking space, this parklet dresses up the scene with flower boxes and planting. And check out the view across the street. Beautiful buildings!

A closer view of the restaurant parklet. (Side note: In the life of a preservationist, I always feel like people think I'm taking photographs of them. Nope, sorry, just the environment!)

A closer view of the restaurant parklet. (Side note: In the life of a preservationist, I always feel like people think I’m taking photographs of them. Nope, sorry, just the environment!)

What do you think of restaurant parklets? Do you want to be eating next to traffic? It’s a great use of space if your town or city has narrow sidewalks, but maybe sipping your drink and enjoying your meal is more difficult if a car is idling in traffic next to you. Yay or nay? Seen any in your neighborhood? Would you prefer a parklet for a restaurant or free for public use?

Small, Public Spaces: Parklets

Many of our New England towns and villages have limited street and sidewalk space when you take into account two lanes of travel, parking spaces and/or lanes, sidewalks and even snow piles. A cafe with outdoor seating is lovely in the warm weather, but only feasible when there is enough space for seating and for pedestrians on the sidewalk. A typical sidewalk, five feet in width, is not going to be sufficient for all our desires. And even then, do we really want to sit outside if a car is going to park next to our lunch seats? Maybe not. And what about benches (street furniture), trash/recycling bins and landscaping? In a nation that mostly caters to automobiles and convenience, roadways and parking spots often call the shots.

How can we add some green space and public space to our villages and cities with narrow sidewalks? Perhaps old news to some, a concept called a “parklet” is called the next big thing by Governing magazine. The article in the June 2012 issue, “Parklet: The Next Big Tiny Idea in Urban Planning,” explores the concept and prototypes of parklets. What is a parklet? Simply put, a parklet is the conversion (temporary or permanent) of a parking space or a few sparking spaces into a mini-park. Parklets can be furnished with outdoor benches, tables & chairs, umbrellas, landscaping in movable planters and similar items. They are designated for public use, meaning cafes and restaurants cannot serve to these park lets, and people are free to come and go as they please. Check out the slideshow with the Parklet article for great parklet designs.

Parklets began in 2009 in San Francisco, CA by the Bicycle Coalition and continues to be supported through the San Francisco Great Streets Project. The website is full of information including transformative before and after photos, from parking space to parklet. See also the How-to-Guide.  According to the Governing article, businesses often fund the park lets, but cities will sometimes share costs. Each parklet costs around $15,000 – $20,000. In terms of infrastructure, that is a small investment for long term positive effects to a community. As far as winter season, parklets can be disassembled and stored until warm weather returns.

So, what do you think? Does your town or city desperately need more green space and seating space? I can think of many towns that would benefit from a more interactive street, yet do not have the sidewalk space. Real estate, whether for streets or buildings, comes at a high premium in our compact villages. Using space wisely is a fine art. And typically, parking spaces are not something that municipalities are willing to lose. But what if just one parking space could be a parklet outside your local eatery or civic building? People could pause in the parklet, gather or meet there, get a cup of coffee to go from elsewhere and enjoy it in that space.

A parklet isn’t going to replace your town park, but it can get people to linger longer in the business district and to enjoy the surroundings. When was the last time you stood and looked up at the second or third story of a building? Imagine sitting on a bench in a parklet and gazing at the cornice on a historic building. Or – okay – people watching if that’s more your thing.  And the storefront aesthetics will be improved by the change from automobile to parklet fronting the building.

Some questions that need to be answered: how will the pedestrians in the parklet be protected from traffic? How long will the parklet stay? Who will fund it? However, next time you are walking through your town’s business district: look around. Where can you imagine a parklet?

What do you think? Good idea in theory, in practice, or both? An idea here to stay or just a trend? Do you know of similar ideas?