by Tracy Geraldez, AIA
When I lived in Chicago, I often had mixed feelings about the city’s grand boulevard system, where major automobile thoroughfares allowed cars to cut across the city fairly quickly. Many of the tree-lined boulevards undoubtedly offered a pleasant driving experience, enabling you to reach 40mph under the shade of large old oaks in a dense urban environment. However, the Chicago boulevards were more often a space for competition between cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians. I’m not opposed to smooth inner-city driving (I admit that cruising down an lightly trafficked road can be liberating), but I also realize that the successful use of the roadway is in the eye of the beholder. As a pedestrian I often wondered how the street experience might be improved if a part of the road could be reclaimed for pedestrian use. After recently moving to San Francisco, I realized I was certainly not the only one thinking that.
Inspired by similar projects in New York City and PARK(ing) Day (an annual event founded by SF’s own Rebar Studio which galvanizes people to convert parking spots to mini-parks for a day), the San Francisco Planning Department implemented a program called Pavements to Parks, encouraging businesses, neighborhoods, and individuals to convert part of the roadway to public pedestrian use. The public can seek permission from the city to install a “parklet”, which is a semi-permanent pedestrian area in the on-street parking lane. What’s great about this approach is that it taps into the intimate knowledge of the direct users of a space, the business owners and residents who are most familiar with the opportunities in their communities. The parklet that originally sparked my interest was in front of my neighborhood cafe, Farley’s in Potrero Hill, and was full of life on a recent Saturday morning. It was the perfect place to take in some streetlife, and feel out of the way of the trafficked sidewalk.
Parklet in front of Farley’s Coffee Shop, 18th Street
San Francisco currently has 21 built parklets, 2 mobile parklets, and a great Promenade on Powell Street. Check out this Google Map for all locations.
MK Think has recently been invited to partner up with one of the leading parklet design teams to go beyond the parklet, and further develop revolutionary ways of re-“thinking” how design, space, and humans intersect. Imagine all the opportunities to create outdoor community spaces without the prohibitive cost of planning, approval and implementation that typically surrounds a public works project. Last week the SF Planning Department reissued their call for projects, so check it out and start envisioning how you’d grow your sidewalk.