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The Parklets Of San Francisco: Keeping Neighborhoods Alive

The Parklets Of San Francisco: Keeping Neighborhoods Alive

Picture of Natalie Garnett
Updated: 11 December 2015
A splash of milk in your coffee and a scone in tow, you head out of the café looking for a bench, any bench, where you can sit for a moment and enjoy breakfast. Stop. Look around. What do you see? A narrow sidewalk, a wide road, and not a seat in site.

Cities around the world face this problem – a severe lack of resting places between storefronts and the streets that they line. In San Francisco, the streets and sidewalks amount to 25% of the land area, which is more space than all of the actual parks combined. But pedestrians don’t see much of this space for their own use; in fact, a lot of the street and sidewalk areas go unused, especially near intersections. San Francisco decided to face this problem head on.

In 2010, the world’s first ‘Parklet,’ designed by Italian architect Suzi Bolognese, was installed in San Francisco, and the Pavement to Parks project was born. About the size of two parked cars, the Parklet was designed to create a buffer between the sidewalk and street, and to open up a space where locals and tourists alike can rest in an otherwise bustling area. The Parklet program is one branch of the larger Better Streets Plan, the goal of which is to provide ‘complete’ streets that are equally usable for cars, buses, pedestrians, and cyclists. Also adopted in 2010, Better Streets includes street fairs, outdoor café seating, street artists and vendors, and of course, Parklets.

While the San Francisco Planning Department, Public Works, and Municipal Transportation Agency act as guiding hands in Pavement to Parks, it is independent project sponsors that spearhead, design, and fund each Parklet. This includes merchants, neighborhood groups, nonprofit organizations, and more. By giving local organizations the ability to propose Parklets, the City aims for these spaces to address the individual needs and personalities of each neighborhood, rather than being cookie-cutter designs that are plopped throughout San Francisco. The Parklets themselves are installed efficiently and at a low cost and are designed to be just as easily removed, for Pavement to Parks acts as a series of temporary experiments between the City and local communities. If over time the spaces prove to mesh well with their surrounding environments and truly serve the community, the Parklets are left as permanent fixtures.

Overall, the Parklets have gotten such a positive response that they are rarely ever dismantled. Parklets around the city have created moments of tranquility in otherwise hectic environments. Many of the Parklets are situated in front of the businesses they are sponsored by, but they remain free for all public use. They are spaces for neighbors to chat, eat, and play in, they act as pops of greenery amidst the asphalt, they encourage cyclists to park and relax, and they themselves become sculptures that line the otherwise monotonous streets. These small moments foster relationships throughout the city and remind people why they moved to San Francisco in the first place. As of spring 2015, over 50 Parklets have been built and enjoyed, and cities nationwide have started their own programs.

To find a Parklet in your neighborhood, check out this map courtesy of the SF Planning Department.

By Natalie Garnett