Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Best Practices in City-led “Parklet” Efforts

Parklets are a growing strategy that commercial district managers are using to drive traffic to their local business districts, and with good reason.  According to the 2011 San Francisco Great Streets “Parklet Impact Study,” foot traffic increased 44% in a studied area, those stopping to engage in stationary activity tripled at another, and business owners denied any decrease in business while some reported an increase.

The term “parklet” was first used in San Francisco to describe a parking spot turned mini-park and originated from the 2009 San Francisco Park(ing) Day.  A typical parklet includes a platform on pavement adjacent to a sidewalk. Many parklets include additional seating, landscape, and tables.  Parklets have now spread to many other cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Long Beach. (Source: Grand Rapids Parklet Manual)

Many other cities have caught on to the appeal of parklets and have begun parklet pilot programs.  Cities on the list include Seattle, Minneapolis, Miami, and Grand Rapids.

Parklets are a creative solution to the desire for wider sidewalks especially in areas with narrow sidewalks or a lack of open space.  Although parklets are not permitted to engage in direct commerce like sidewalk cafes or table-side service, a 2010 Divisidero Trial Parklet Impact Report noted they do increase foot traffic (13-37% according to the study), economic activity, bike parking, and public relaxation and socialization. http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/divisadero_trial_parklet_impact_report_pratt.pdf

Pilot programs vary from city to city, but there has been an uptick of activity. A few programs that we like here at the Commercial District Advisor include the following:
With many benefits and few disadvantages, withstanding the loss of one or two parking spots, parklets demonstrate the growing impetus to leave the car and gather with your community to laugh, love, relax, and to have a shared experience. 

Photo by: San Francisco Planning Department
Lessons Learned
It appears that parklets have common themes.  They generally take up one to two parking spots, have seating and landscaping, and the overall responsibility lies on the “host” to maintain.  What other lessons are there to be learned moving forward with parklets:
  • Are there some places that shouldn’t do parklets? Raleigh completed a Parklet Feasability Study and noted specific locations within their city that parklets shouldn’t be.  One could induce from their results that parklets should not occur in areas with low pedestrian destination traffic, in places with sufficient plaza or open space already, high parking demand, busy or dangerous streets or streets that need reconfiguring, and streets entering residential neighborhoods. (http://www.raleighnc.gov/content/extra/Books/PlanDev/ParkletFeasibilityStudy/index.html#/30-31/zoomed, 2013)
  • Do we need to ensure that someone manages them? It is important for parklets to keep up appearances, after all the purpose is to ensure a little bit of green space for public enjoyment.  The common rule is to hold “hosts” responsible for maintenance and appearance.  Most parklet programs have parameters and specific guidelines in place for hosts to maintain their parklets.
  • Are they best when connected to a local business?  More studies are needed to gauge specific metrics of whether positive effects come from parklets adjacent to businesses.  All parklet programs prohibit direct service to businesses such as table-side service or café service.  Nearly every city requires parklets to be open to public use, but Long Beach, CA allows discretion on the owner whether they require patrons to make purchases (http://www.raleighnc.gov/content/extra/Books/PlanDev/ParkletFeasibilityStudy/index.html#/4-5/, 2013).
  • What about the homeless?  Like most urban public plazas and parks, parklets will also have the issue of how to regulate or manage the homeless if their use of the parklet is outside of the intended purpose.   San Francisco has shut down at least one parklet because it had become a prime destination for drinking and carousing (http://www.berkeleyside.com/2013/07/08/berkeley-parklets-stir-up-excitement-apprehension/, 2013).
Image via http://www.minneapolismn.gov/
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