It’s a sidewalk café, it’s an urban garden . . . it’s a parklet! In a bid to re-use public space previously used only for hourly car parking, San Francisco has gone all-out for parklets - tiny, urban sidewalk oases. Created from an average of two curbside parking spots, parklets are sprouting up all over the city. With almost two dozen of the tiny parks already constructed and more on the waiting list, San Francisco’s “Pavement to Parks” program has blossomed from its origins as a temporary public art intervention into an official city-sponsored program in just a few years.
Local design studio Rebar was instrumental in developing the concept of using public parking spaces to create a more engaging use for the public – even temporarily. Rebar’s original project started in 2005 with a public art intervention called “PARK(ing)”, in which the designers paid to use the parking space for two hours like any other vehicle, but then renovated it into a temporary public park instead. A statement on the lack of public open space in many of San Francisco’s busy downtown areas, the project morphed into “PARK(ing) Day” – a yearly tradition of guerilla (and increasingly, city-sponsored) art installations in cities worldwide.
With streets and other paved surfaces making up a full quarter of San Francisco’s land area, reclaiming wide zones of wasted space at curbsides, intersections, alleys, and other spots is a key motivation behind the growing parklet program. San Francisco’s Department of Planning is teaming with other city agencies, businesses, and key stakeholders to evaluate the success of the project as it enters its third iteration in the coming year.
Ranging from cute cafe-style seating areas to creative art installations and sunny urban gardens, parklets add a whimsical yet functional touch to otherwise dull streetscapes across the city. Public-private partnership is key to the parklet program, since a business owner must apply for and financially support the creation of the parklet. Although many parklets perform double duty as outdoor seating for nearby cafes, each parklet is officially a public space, and any San Franciscan is welcome to stop by, read a book, or catch some rays without purchasing anything.
One of the unique facets of San Francisco’s collection of parklets is the wide range of materials and functions each space encompasses. While some parklets are focused on the needs of the community at large – large bicycle racks, and outdoor space for eating and drinking – others bring a much-needed touch of greenery to barren corners or simply add visual interest to the neighborhood. With materials ranging from galvanized steel and planters to reclaimed wood and succulent topiaries, a variety of designers, architects, and landscapers have collaborated with business owners to create unique public spaces that display their talents to passersby.
We visited a few of our favorite parklets and took photos to display the diversity of building materials and interpretations of the concept – click through our gallery to see them all! The third round of applications closed in December 2011, so locals and visitors to San Francisco alike can look forward to visiting more new parklets within the next year. Find a parklet in your neighborhood or visit them by checking out this interactive map.