PARKLETS EXPERIMENTS IN URBAN PUBLIC SPACE
A Public Interest Design Publication
ÂŠ GILAD MERON & KATIE MAYS Published by: Center for Sustainable Development The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture 1 University Station B7500 Austin, Texas 78712 All rights reserved. Neither the whole nor any part.
PARKLETS EXPERIMENTS IN URBAN PUBLIC SPACE
YOU SHOULD READ THIS.
A new generation of designers is emerging. A generation who will define themselves not by what they design, but by why they design. A generation who will use design as a tool to respond to the world around them and will not only solve problems, but identify them as well. A generation who will recognize their potential to alter the course of the design profession forever. In this very same generation teachers, farmers and bus drivers will all become designers. Cities will be transformed by the collective will of their inhabitants, and the built environment will become the medium through which societal issues are addressed. This new generation will not wait for their turn, instead we will outsmart the powers that be at their own games. We will be legal guerillas and we will show (not tell) that design has the power to change the world. We will do this cautiously, stealthily and incrementally. We will develop new powerful tactics and we will crowd source them all. We will use our efforts to benefit communities and people alike, and we will do good in the world. If you are reading this then you are part of this generation. It is up to us to learn from one another and educate ourselves collectively. We must work together if we are to succeed in our goal of using design to create positive social impact. We must share our new ideas and empower each other with new knowledge. Parklets are one part of this larger movement. This document aims to build capacity and agency among designers by providing precedents for how this work is being done and by sharing current ideas, knowledge, and techniques.
â€œThose who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.â€? -Albert Einstein
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction...................... 9 Part 1: Contexts................ 13 Part 2: Case Studies......... 27 Part 3: Analysis................ 63 Appendix........................... 73
This document will show architects and designers how small scale pro bono projects can benefit their firms and practices. This document will share with students various public interest design projects and the guerilla urbanism movement in San Francisco. This document will help everyone understand how design can be used as a tool for social impact in urban spaces and places.
This document was published as part of the 2012 Public Interest Design Program.
This study and research was made possible through the 2012 PID Externship Program.
The Public Interest Design Program connects advanced students interested in the built environment, public service and community engagement with leading practitioners in public design, and equips them with the tools needed to create beautiful, sustainable, and communityenhancing spaces. In this program, students develop skills to leverage the practical and ethical competencies of public service as a means to heighten the quality of their work. The program is designed and run to help train students seeking education and experience in the emerging field of Public Interest Design, and aims to help students find innovative design solutions that positively impact larger social problems.
The Public Interest Design Externship Program is a collaboration between the University of Texas at Austinâ€™s Center for Sustainable Design and the San Francisco-based nonprofit Public Architecture.
The PID program offers students the opportunity to investigate what it means to be a public servant through the lens of the design profession. Much like public health is to medicine, this program contributes to the emerging understanding of the civic role of the design profession.
The following document is not intended to be an exhaustive review of its subject matter, but rather a documentation and analysis of the research conducted by the authors while visiting the sites and firms located in San Francisco.
The Externship placed eight select students within firms based in the Bay Area to study built projects and write a critical professional report that documents the community impact of those projects. Students conducted research, worked with professionals and engaged with community members in order to create detailed reports that analyze and assess the social, economic and environmental impacts of each built project.
Methods and Data Collection Process The following document was the collaborative product of the 2012 Public Interest Design Program and the 2012 Public Interest Design Externship. Both primary and secondary data were analyzed, using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. The information and data within this document was collected primarily through in-person interviews, on-the-ground research, and critical analysis of related articles, texts and websites. Though no information collected was directly altered, it should be noted that the tone and presentation are the interpretations of the authors. The document as a whole represents an academic and professional analysis of parklets through the lens of Reception Theory, the framework that formed the basis of our approach.
PART 1 : CONTEXTS
WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE WHY HOW 13
WHAT IS A PARKLET?
What Is It? A parklet is an urban intervention to create more public space. Parklets function as public space, much like a traditional park, but rely on the stewardship of a sponsoring business. Parklets are built in the public right-of-way, typically repurposing two adjacent parking spaces, shifting their use from the storage of cars to pedestrian-centered public space.
How Does It Work? A sponsoring business responds to a cityissued Parklet Request for Proposal (RFP) with a schematic design. Once approved the parklet receives a 1-year renewable permit. Parklets are generally seen by city officials as semi-temporary urban experiments.
Are They Really Public? Yes, as part of the design and permit process, parklets are created to function as public space. Businesses who sponsor parklets are not allowed to use them as extensions of their business nor evict anyone from their parklet, unless they are doing something illegal. Parklets fall into the category of privately owned public open spaces.
LEFT: Parklet rendering by LongBeach based Studio One Eleven. photo credit: Press Telegram1
WHERE ARE PARKLETS?
San Francisco Treat Although parklets now exist around the world, there is still without a doubt the highest concentration in San Francisco. There is a much greater density of parklets near downtown and in certain residential areas, but they are for the most part scattered throughout the city. Recently they have been popping up further and further from downtown, centered in neighborhoods and community spaces.
A Future Network Though one does not exist yet, some designers and planners think the future might be a connected network of parklets throughout the city, somewhat akin to New York Cityâ€™s Highline; a linear park. This is still far from a reality but looking at the map one can begin to see corridors in the city that could potentially be predecessors to parklet boulevards in the not so distant future.
17 19 8
HOW DID PARKLETS COME TO BE?
Jane Moses In 2006 New York Mayor Bloomberg was putting the finishing touches on his PlaNYC program, an initiative that focused on reducing the city’s carbon footprint and promised expanded green spaces as well as a more environmentally forward-thinking city. In order to be effective PlaNYC would require rethinking the responsibilities of various city departments and agencies, particularly transportation. Thus, when Mayor Bloomberg needed to appoint a new Commissioner of the DOT, the decision was crucial for the future success of PlaNYC. Janette Sadik-Khan not only shared Bloomberg’s visionary (and often-impatient) attitude towards change in the public realm, but her ideas about public space and transportation were right in line with PlaNYC’s objectives. Sadik-Khan was hired in 2007 and went to work immediately, quickly becoming well known for various new programs.1
“I am an unabashed thief, I basically go around the world borrowing ideas from other places” -Janette Sadik-Khan Borrowing from places like Copenhagen and Bogotá, Sadik-Khan implemented more bike lanes, car-free streets and a variety of other urban “experiments” within the public realm.2
But her plan to convert huge portions of Broadway into a pedestrian plaza was by far the most loved and hated idea, and not surprisingly the most publicized.3 The purpose, as with most of her projects, was to give the streets back to the people. Robert Moses* had paved so much of the city that now there was ample blacktop space to reappropriate as public space. Some said she was providing the late Jane Jacobs* with one final sweet revenge against her arch nemesis Moses. Yet despite her Jacobsonian tactics, she took quite a Moses-like approach, which many believe is why she has been so effective and efficient.4 Sadik-Khan soon become a leader whom other planning departments glorified as a visionary and change maker. In late 2008 she came to a conference in San Francisco and challenged the city to develop similar forward-thinking programs to improve public spaces and promote civically minded urban lifestyles. Mayor Newsom helped bring together a unique coalition to address this challenge and they got to work brainstorming new ideas. One of them was a program called Pavement To Parks, which would create public plazas and parklets in the city. A young impassioned urban designer, Andres Power, took the lead on Pavement to Parks and helped move the program forward. Less than two years after Sadik-Khan had inspired them, the first parklet was completed.
*Who was Robert Moses?
Robert Moses was the “master builder and planner” of NYC in the 20th Century. Moses is most known for introducing countless new roads and highways into the city and generally working towards a system of infrastructure which supported the automobile over public transit and took a top-down approach to planning. Moses was notorious for initiating and carrying out urban projects at an unprecedented speed and scale. His influence and methods of persuasion reached far beyond his official authority, making him arguably the most powerful man in NYC, with no one to answer to.
*Who was Jane Jacobs?
Jane Jacobs was a contemporary of Moses, and an urban planning activist best known for her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Jacobs advocated for bottom-up grass roots neighborhood-based urban renewal projects. She was by far the most influential critic of Moses, and was instrumental in organizing against (and ultimately preventing) multiple urban renewal projects that would have destroyed local neighborhoods. The battle between Moses and Jacobs represents a crucial shift in the theory and practice of urban renewal and is arguably one of the most influential debates in the history of American urban planning.5 1: “Honk, Honk, Aaah!” The New York Magazine, May 17, 2009. 2: “Bicycle Visionary” The New York Times, September 10, 2011. 3: “For City’s Transportation Chief, Kudos and Criticism” The New York Times, March 4, 2011. 4: “Janette Sadik-Khan Is The Best Mechanic...” The New York Observer, September 6, 2011. 5: Wrestling with Moses. By Anthony Flint LEFT: A rendering of before and after of the changes to Broadway in NYC (Photo credit NYC DOT via The New York Magazine).
NYC Times Square is transformed into pedestrian friendly plaza with hundreds of bright lawn chairs thanks to the rogue DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.4
Bonnie Ora Sherk stages “Portable Parks I & II” Converting the Mission and Van Ness underpass into a guerilla park.1
Rebar Group stages the very first park(ing) experiment in downtown San Francisco. The title and iconic image went viral within weeks.3
Public Architecture co-sponsors Park(ing) Day as part of its Open Space Strategy Project. First Pavement to Parks project is completed; a temporary plaza at 17th & Castro.5
Rail-volution conference held in SF, presentation by Janette Sadik-Khan inspires SF Mayor Gavin Newsom to push for innovation in public spaces.
SF Bicycle Coalition receives funding for 3-year program to improve streets and public space in the city, titled “Great Streets Project” (Not to be confused with the SF DPW’s Great Streets Program2)
Most recent parklet completes construction, bringing city-wide total to 29. Pavement to Parks Public Plazas are completed at Showplace Triangle and Guerrero Park.6
First official parklet completed at Mojo Bicycle Cafe.
SPUR, in an effort to create a reusable and ADA accessible park(ing) day installation, accidentally creates the first ever parklet. Sept. 2009
Two parklets are completed in Noe Valley, the 4th and 5th in the city.
The graph to the right charts the number of parklets completed in San Francisco by date. RFPs are now issued by the Planning Dept. every six months, averaging a total of 30 new parklets per year.
Six parklets completed, including the largest ever, the Powell St. Promenade.
03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 2010
03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 01 02 03 04 05 06 07
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PARKLETS?
Andres Power In 2009, Andres Power took the lead on Pavement to Parks (P2P), the new city-wide pilot program aimed at transforming underutilized lots and plazas into usable public spaces. P2P brought together an unprecedented coalition of city departments including the San Francisco Planning Department (SFPD), the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) to form a unique coalition which became known as Pavement to Parks (P2P)1. Though parklets were not the first of the P2P projects, they quickly became the most popular. Before long Andres Power was the figurehead of the P2P program and a local champion of parklets. Power had been inspired by Sadik-Kahn’s challenge to improve public space in the city, but also knew the inherent challenges of such a task. He knew the inner workings of the city from his education in Urban Planning and Design at MIT and from his experience working in other city planning departments. He understood that despite all the reasons why improved public spaces were beneficial for the city, the program would fail unless the directive came right from the top. So, instead of trying to initiate the program through his own department, he went straight to the mayor’s office. With the blessing of the mayor, Pavement to Parks projects were able to sidestep all the typical drawn out approval processes thus avoiding the difficulties of typical public realm projects. The rationale for such a radical approach was that these projects would be temporary and easily reversible experiments. Power openly acknowledged the possibility of failure and continually emphasized that these were only experiments. If they did fail, they would simply be removed. Despite this tactic, various individuals in city departments opposed the projects, but because the directive for the program came straight from the mayor’s office, none of their arguments had any real ground to stand on.
“We didn’t want to have to prove to everyone that this was something we needed to do. The attitude was, we have the authorization from your boss, therefore we’re going to do it. The question to each department that we approached was not whether we should do this, but how they would help make it happen for us.” “We were able to go directly to the Directors of the Departments and say, this is what we are doing. This is what we have been instructed to do. The request we have of you is to convey the message to your staff that they are to help make the project happen, and help identify issues that need to be addressed...not answer the question of whether or not we should be doing it, because that question has already been answered. So it was a little bit of a steamroller approach, but it’s a steamroller approach knowing that you have the backing to be that steamroller.” Once the first project was completed, it suddenly became clear to everyone, not only the residents but the government agencies who begrudgingly cooperated, that this was a good thing. “At the end of the day, the program worked because it was kind of stealth. We did the minimum amount that we needed to do in order to say that we had authorization, and then we just did it. At the end of the day what’s one city agency going to do to another city agency? Especially when we had the backing of the mayor’s office.” Once the first few went in it became easy; people saw the value in these projects and they supported them. Soon after the first few parklets were completed, the city established a temporary permit specifically for parklets, along with an official RFP and implementation process. The transfer to government “ownership” was an important step in the broader mission parklets were a part of; incorporating more public space into cities.
1: Pavement to Parks Website Content and Quotes taken from interview with Andres Power by Kelly Sanford on July 20, 2012.
WHY ARE PARKLETS SUCH A BIG DEAL?
Public Space in San Francisco Probably the most under-articulated aspect of parklets is their temporary nature, which is linked to the broader idea of temporary urbanism. In San Francisco in particular this idea has two powerful components that allow it to plug into a much deeper policy issue, 1- the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and 2- the pervasively conservative attitude the city has towards design and the built environment. Very much in contrast with the city’s reputation, its departments and officials and its civic culture as a whole, are all very nervous about things changing. Any decision gets bogged down in endless public arguments, lawsuits and environmental review, which stems from the history of urban renewal in San Francisco. In the middle of this century, for the first time, planners got a lot of power and resources to transform the city and they completely blew it. They tore apart huge swaths of the city and basically guaranteed that no planner would ever again be able to do anything sweeping and comprehensive. It was done with the best of intentions and done by very broad coalitions with a great degree of consensus about trying to save the city and make the city better... and it was a complete disaster. San Francisco was where a lot of law suits were precipitated that ended up stopping this urban renewal dead in its tracks. The backlash against urban renewal and against top down planning by a fiat of experts was total and extreme. Around this period was also the start of the environmental movement, which at that time was introducing all kinds of very powerful pieces of legislation; policy with real teeth that was intended to stop what was being done to the environment. Without a doubt CEQA was important because it was a major piece in the battle to save the environment at the time. CEQA basically says that any project of significant scale is subject to environmental review, which means doing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which stipulates a very specific set of impacts that must be studied on projects. This was all done with the best of intentions, as a means to keep the natural environment from being decimated.
So for example, if someone now tried to build a coal fired power plant in the middle of the city, CEQA would come in very handy. But if someone is trying to build infill housing in San Francisco close to transit in a walkable district in a spatially efficient pattern, CEQA is a disaster because the project will be intrinsically punished for doing things in proximity to other things. The project would be in deep trouble under CEQA because it would blow the congestion model. All the levels of service of all the intersections around it would be tripped because they’re all already congested and they’re all already right on the brink, so any incremental change is going to have more of an impact. Yet at the same time, there’s nothing in CEQA to account for the efficiencies of locating in a dense urban environment. All of this is the backdrop to the challenge of getting anything done in San Francisco. Certainly from a planner’s point of view it can be a very frustrating city to work in. For example, say you wanted to create a public space on the scale of a parklet. You would end up spending more money on the required Environmental Impact Review under CEQA then you would spend on the actual capital to construct the project. However, there is a specific exemption under CEQA for temporary reversible projects. This is where the idea of temporary resonates profoundly to any planner working in the urban context in California. If you track this model of temporary projects back to someone, I would say it’s Janette Sadik-Kahn, the transportation Commissioner of NYC. She accomplished what she did by really driving home the idea of temporary. She pushed the mind-set of “look we’ll try it in the real world, and if the sky falls we’ll take it out! It’s not that big of a deal.” Using this exception under CEQA projects can be studied in the real world, rather than just with ivory-tower theories. This CEQA exemption for temporary projects is the key. “So this idea of temporary projects like parklets is interesting not only because it enables you to do things quickly and in a sort of fun and nimble way, it also touches on this much bigger issue of the regulatory constraints to innovation in the built environment and that’s why it has been so powerful in San Francisco.”
All content and Quotes taken from interview with Ben Grant of SPUR
PART 2: CASE STUDIES Although they’re called case studies, they’re not exactly case studies. Each case study examines a different purpose for the creation of a parklet.
START A MOVEMENT. Rebar | Tactical Urbanism, Park(ing) Day and Beyond
DO GOOD FOR OTHERS. Jack Verdon | Building Community Through Design
CHALLENGE YOURSELF. RG Architecture | Design Challenges: The First Parklet
EXPAND YOUR PRACTICE. Boor Bridges | Aligning Your Work with Your Values
ENGAGE WITH LOCALS. Criag Hollow & EAG | For the Community by the Community
BUILD YOUR IDEAS. Ogrydziak/Prillinger | The Importance of Research
START A MOVEMENT. Parklets began with Rebarâ€™s vision for using public space as a way to catalyze change. Parklets are only one example of how design practiced in the public realm can be used as a powerful social tool.
“I was in a high-rise, looking down at the street, and I remember seeing this row of cars go in and go out… and I started thinking, what if one of those was a park? We started talking about actually just taking over a parking spot for a couple hours, so we did a little research and then we just decided to go for it.” -Matthew Passmore *What is Doxa and Habitus? Piere Bordieu, a well respected sociologist, was most influential for his contribution of Field Theory, which includes the notions of the Doxa and the Habitus. Bordieu argues that existence necessitates social interaction, and our relationships with others form the basis of our understanding and experience of the world. This notion is also related to Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Theory of Ecological Development.
Tactical Urbanism Rebar takes a unique approach to design practice within the city, something they call tactical urbanism; “the use of modest or temporary revisions to urban space to seed structural environmental change.” Building off of Piere Bordieu’s notion of the Doxa and the Habitus*, Rebar believes that there is a deep underlying relationship between the physical environment and the organizational structures (social, cultural, economic, etc.) that govern it. Tactical urbanism then, is a means to challenge the extents of both. Rebar practices tactical urbanism within niche spaces in the city that are often hidden, forgotten or undervalued. By creating a new program for these niche spaces, Rebar is experimenting with how far they can push the limits of what the physical space can be used for, while at the same time challenging the organizational structures that determine what is socially and legally acceptable within those spaces (as well as the rest of the city, and the public realm as a whole)1.
Park(ing) The story of parklets begins in 2005, when Matt Passmore, John Bela and Blaine Merker decided to experiment with a parking space.
The entire experiment lasted only two hours, and afterwards all that remained were a few photos and videos, which were posted on Rebar’s website and dubbed “Park(ing).” Together, the title and images made the concept so easily understandable that within weeks park(ing) went viral, spreading across the world via blogs. Park(ing) was powerful because it accomplished two things at the same time; shift and agency. The idea shifted people’s perspectives of both ownership and appropriate use for parking spots. Simultaneously, the title and images made the concept so self-explanatory that it enabled people to utilize this legal guerilla intervention method to take action themselves. Park(ing) planted a seed in the minds of every urban dweller from grandmothers to city planners. The project had a clear message, and sparked a much larger conversation about who owned public space in the city and who determined what it could be used for.
Bordieu explains the Doxa as the fundamental, learned and unconscious beliefs and values, which inform and guide each individual’s actions and thoughts. The Habitus is the social world we live in, which is created by the summation of all existing and inherited Doxa. Thus the Doxa results in the Habitus, and favors the existing social paradigm. This leads to a self-perpetuating model in which the existing social paradigm is passed on to the next generation with little room for innovation or alteration.
Above: The iconic image of the very first park(ing) experiment. 1: Content paraphrased from “Taking Place”; Chapter 4 of Insurgent Public Space.
Park(ing) Day Gives Birth
The idea of park(ing) was contagious to say the least. After receiving hundred of inquiries, Rebar decided to create a how-to manual for park(ing). They treated the idea as open source and licenced it for use under the Creative Commons.
In 2009 when SPUR (The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association) was planning for Park(ing) Day, they decided they wanted to do something a little different. Instead of making an entirely temporary installation, they hired an architect to design a platform that could be stored and re-used. They wanted something that could last longer than a single day and support the more typical functions of public space. Before long, the concept sparked a question, why not make a more permanent park(ing)?
“As long as it was not used for profit, we encouraged people to replicate and reinterpret it.” What was so powerful about this method was its passive yet empowering approach. Rebar never told people what to do with parking spots, never organized a rally against cars, and never tried to use Park(ing) to take over the world. They simply planted an idea by showing people what was possible, and then opened up the project to anyone who wanted to participate. It quickly caught on and in just two years, Park(ing) had become an official ‘Day’ and a global movement.
The Saga Continues For Rebar, Park(ing) and Parklets are simply part of who they are and what they do. Park(ing) was a means, not an end. They have produced a variety of other projects within the public realm and continue to work towards their mission “to create objects, spaces and ideas that inspire people to re-imagine the environment and our place in it.”
1: Photo from Park(ing) day in San Francisco. 2: “Parkcycle: A human powered open space distribution system. Parkcycle effectively re-programs the urban hardscape by delivering massive quantities of green open space—up to 4,320 square-footminutes of park per stop—thus temporarily re-framing the rightof-way as green space, not just a car space.”
3: A Walklet is a modular sidewalk extension system utilizing a “kit of parts” approach to creating urban public space. Essentially an evolution of the parklet concept, the system allows a parklet to be an iterative programmable and adjustable public space. 4: The first Walklet installed at 22nd and Bartlett in the Mission District of San Francisco. All quotes taken from interview with Matthew Passmore, and from the Rebar Website.
All photo credits: Rebar
The Future of the Guerillas A discussion with Matthew Passmore about Park(ing), Walklets and the future of the guerilla urbanism movement.
How did Rebar play a role in the transition from Park(ing) to Parklets? It all happened because of Andres Power in the SF Planning Dept, he was the project manager for the Pavement to Parks Program and parklets were his baby. He knew everyone that needed to come together to make it happen and he brought them all together and made it happen. He was the one who got statements from the mayors office and passed the message on down the lines, he was behind it the whole way and was the one who made sure that it actually happened. Parklets definitely grew out of Park(ing) Day, and we really supported that evolution, but we did want to make sure it didn’t become something for people to profit off of. For a while there was a group of powerful people who wanted the parklets to be just private cafe space, to extend the commercial realm into the parking lane, but Rebar pushed vigorously against that and convinced Andres that selling some of the city like that (without charging market value for the land) is much more problematic than converting a public space from one usage to another. For us, it was very important that it remained public space.
So how does Rebar approach designing a parklet? Is it different from the way you approach other work you do? We just try to get a sense of the context in which the parklet is going to be and design from there.
Matthew is one of the three co-founders of Rebar, the design firm responsible for Park(ing) Day, the event which has become an international phenomenon and is widely accepted as the original predecessor to the parklet movement.
Everything is started by the merchant, we meet with them and get them to think about this as a public space that they’re sponsoring. We remind them that yes, it may have their business, but that’s not the goal. From there, they are our client and it operates like a traditional design process.
And is community input and involvement a part of the process? Honestly with the parklets there is very little community input. You notify the neighbors by posting the permit, which gives them 10 days to submit a formal complaint, but the whole idea with something of this scale is that you just put it in rapidly and you don’t engage in the long review processes that would normally take place. We believe parklets are a good thing, and something that the city needs, and they align with our mission to improve the city by adding public space. Our approach is to get them put in quickly, before people can oppose them, and then people will experience them first hand and realize that they are a great thing. The permits do have to be renewed every year though, so if someone really doesn’t like a parklet then it’s up to them to marshal and organize against it.
“There is an extraordinary power in getting people to have the experience of what could be... you can really change people’s opinions dramatically.”
So tell me about this new system Rebar has been using, the Walklet. We were starting to see issues with a few parklets not functioning as they were intended or not working as well as they could have in a particular site. The idea with the walklet is that the design can be iterative, and because it’s modular it can be easily adjusted. A business can do an original layout, a sequence of these modules, let it sit there for three months, six months, a year, and then realize that there’s a weird circulation issue on one side of it, and then just take the same modules and rearrange them and get a whole new site program. The idea was that these become programmable, adjustable modular public space.
It seems like that is an evolution of the parklet... have you seen the concept of parklets evolving in any other ways? On a larger scale, it’s really interesting to chart the evolution of parking day from a 2-hour installation we did once, through being adopted by the city. It’s interesting to see, but not surprising. The natural progression is from a guerilla thing, to being incorporated into the city government. That’s exactly what’s happened now with the whole permitting process for parklets. But if the larger context is thinking about ways to reframe the city so its for people rather than cars, then it’s a step in the right direction. It’s all about these incremental moves as we slowly re-imagine the city, rebalance the place of the car in the urban context and re-prioritize the uses of the public right of way and space in the public domain.
Well what’s next then? What is the next evolution of parklets? That’s a real concern these days, in our minds and others like the folks at city planning. I think it becomes a question of how you broaden the portfolio past just chairs and tables in front of cafes as public spaces, how do you start to fulfil some other needs? I hope we get past all the seating and chairs, for me there is so much opportunity to push these designs, it’s a small site and they’re relatively inexpensive.
“Now that there’s this official mechanism in the city government and it’s no longer so difficult to get them put in, it would be great to see this new spatial typology really gain a lot more diversity in design, we would love to see what else people can think of.” So what’s next for Rebar as the unofficial leaders of the Guerilla Urbanism movement in San Francisco? We are definitely looking at what’s next, what the next move in terms of scale that we can get away with that doesn’t require a larger plan. When you start to move up to doing things on a community scale, you start to effect traffic patterns and circulation patterns. At the larger scale doing broader planning and analysis of what changes your project will become very important for future work. But we are looking for the next scale, the question is how big can you get but still stay guerilla. Because ultimately it’s about improving the city, it’s improving the quality and character of the city.
So can you give us a preview of what kinds of things Rebar is looking to do? We’re working on car-free streets, looking at ways to make some of the smaller streets closed to automobiles and then other streets more dedicated to automobiles. It’s not something we can really do guerilla style, but the mock-ups, the trials for a day you can do pretty easily, and it’s the temporary trials and mock-ups that can really change hearts and minds. There’s extraordinary power in getting people to have the experience of what the city could be like. That’s what’s so powerful about parking day, you get people to step off the curb into the street and suddenly they realize how much room there actually is in the city, how big the streets are and what the range of opportunities are, you can really change people’s opinions dramatically. 33
DO GOOD FOR OTHERS. Parklets are a means for local businesses and designers to give back to their community. As small scale pro bono projects, parklets provide an opportunity to give back without a large time or financial commitment. Firm: Rebar | rebargroup.org Designers: Matthew Passmore, John Bela, Blaine Merker, and the rest of Rebar. Locations: North Beach Cost and Date: ??$15,000ish Completed in May 2011?? Sponsoring Business: Other Stakeholders: SF Bicycle Coalition, Merchants Assos., Planning Dept.
“So all we did was build some platforms and put some planters on them, and that was the whole thing. It was just a platform that was level with the sidewalk... no one knew it was the first parklet.” -Riyad Ghannam
SPUR’s Big Idea SPUR has been a Park(ing) Day participant and supporter since it began in 2006, but in 2009 they did something entirely new. SPUR’s goal was to go beyond just a parking spot covered in grass and instead create a functional public place accessible to everyone in the city1. They wanted to reclaim space in the public realm and truly put it in the service of the community. Their idea was to build a platform that would come level with the curb, be ADA assessable from the sidewalk, and be strong enough to support tables, chairs and a lot of people. They hired a local architect to help them design and build the platform. Riyad, an architect who had agreed to do the project pro bono (simply because he had some free time and thought it was a cool idea), had unknowingly just designed the first parklet the world had ever seen.
The Missing Link SPUR’s timing could not have been better. While Park(ing) day was growing as a grass roots movement and global phenomenon, various
government officials were taking a top-down* approach to the very same issue of improving spaces within the public realm, particular the streets and sidewalks of the city. Parklets were the missing link; the bridge that could bring together the power of a city government and the support of the people living in it. Led by Andres Power and backed by the mayor, parklets soon became the centerpiece of the city’s new Pavement to Parks Program and began popping up all over the city.
*What was the top-down approach? In 2005 The Great Streets Program was established to improve neighborhood streets throughout the city. This program was run through the SF Department of Public Works and was funded through a federal transportation bill (SAFETEA) as well as other state and federal grants. The Program involved large-scale capital-intensive projects such as sidewalk extensions, crosswalk renewals, transfer of utility wires from above ground to below, roadway median expansions, and many more.
A Win-Win Situation Parklets soon became an opportunity for businesses and architects to give back to the neighborhoods they lived in. Their small scale and flexible program presented an interesting design challenge for architects while their potential for improving the local streetscapes was appealing to businesses. For both they were an opportunity to show local communities they valued public space and wanted to help out and do good for others.
1: Riyad Ghannam on the process of working with SPUR. Photo above of first-ever parklet, built by Riyad Ghannam for SPUR’s 2009 Park(ing) Day
Location, Location, Location
Building Community Through Design
When the San Francisco Planning Dept. sent out an RFP for parklets, the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors Association (ISPNA) was one of the first to respond. They wanted to bring a parklet to their neighborhood, and they had turned to an architect in their own community to design it, Jack Verdon. He agreed to design the parklet pro bono because as a local resident and licensed architect, the project provided him an opportunity to use his skills to help create a highly functional community space for his own neighborhood.
What was truly amazing about Jack’s parklet was the way in which he used design as a tool for social impact in his nieghborhood. By utilizing changes in seating height and placement of elements within the parklet, the design actually facilitates interaction, thus promoting exchange between users and acting as a means to build social networks and strengthen communal ties.
“That was really my greatest hope, that it would become a community space... I just really wanted to do something nice for the neighborhood”
“I wanted to look at how people would sit with one another and how people would talk with one another, to create spaces where people could easily engage in a conversation with someone that they didn’t know.”
Because the parklet was meant to function as community space, its location within the neighborhood was crucial. Jack recommended Arizmendi bakery for two reasons. First, as a cooperative organization there was already a lot of community support for it, and second because it was a congestion point in the neighborhood the project presented an opportunity to alleviate a functional problem of how people moved up and down the sidewalk. Furthermore, the site was already the center of the commercial district, just a block from the MUNI stop and across the street from where the weekly farmers market is held.
The parklet provides benches that are an ideal height for seniors who have difficulty sitting all the way down, which are located at the focal point of the parklet to better integrate this often secluded population at the center of the community space. The rest of the parklet mixes lower lounge chairs for young people with more traditional bench seating for families. The design creates opportunities for interactions between groups, between people who are at different stages of their life, thus indirectly facilitating the development of a rich and multi-generational community network for locals.
LEFT: The parklet’s central location in respect to the Inner Sunset Park Neighborhood, along with a graphic representation of its success in relieving sidewalk congestion in front of the Arizmendi Bakery. (Diagram credit of Katie Mays)
Firm: Jack Verdon Architecture jackverdon.com Designers: Jack Verdon Location: 1331 9th Ave Cost: ~$15,000 Completed: May 2011 Sponsoring Business: Arizmendi Co-op Bakery Other Stakeholders: ISPNA, Planning Dept., Craigslist Funding Structure: Craigslist, which was founded in this neighborhood, paid for the parklets as a means to give back to the community as a parting gift before moving their offices to downtown SF.
All quotes taken from interview with Jack Verdon. All Photos Credit of Jack Verdon.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF. Because parklets are so small and have to conform to a strict set of guidelines and constraints, they become unique design challenges. Short term design-build projects like these help invigorate practice and stimulate creativity... and theyâ€™re fun. Firm: Rebar | rebargroup.org Designers: Matthew Passmore, John Bela, Blaine Merker, and the rest of Rebar. Locations: North Beach Cost and Date: ??$15,000ish Completed in May 2011?? Sponsoring Business: Other Stakeholders: SF Bicycle Coalition, Merchants Assos., Planning Dept.
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The Very First Parklet
Exercising Your Creative Might
About a month after designing the 2009 Park(ing) Day installation for SPUR, Riyad Ghannam got a call from Andres Power, the man behind the Pavement to Parks program and the soon-to-be figurehead of the parklet movement.
Interviews with architects have highlighted how small-scale design-build projects like parklets are both interesting design challenges, and creative opportunities. By taking on projects that are outside of a firm’s normal scope or scale, designers are forced to confront unfamiliar territory and solve unfamiliar problems. It is this type of thinking that leads to innovative new ideas.
“When Andres first told me about the idea to build a parklet I thought, alright this won’t be hard, we built those wooden platforms for SPUR and that was a piece of cake. But then he tells me how they want it to have drainage and be able to be removed in two hours and have it only cost $5,000, and I thought to myself wait a second, this is no longer a simple thing.”
“But at that point I was interested in the challenge... I did it out of interest, not out of pure philanthropy. It was a design challenge.” Riyad agreed to do the project pro bono, partly because he had the time and partly because the idea of parklets was something he believed in, but mainly because it presented a unique design challenge that peaked his interest.
Projects like these are even more dynamic when practiced within the context of the public realm. Projects become more challenging by introducing political, economic and cultural constraints, as well as often-complex legal obstacles to navigate. In response, individuals and firms will develop new areas of expertise that broaden their design capabilities and provide new tools with which to address future problems. There are literally thousands of forgotten, unused and undervalued spaces in every city. Each presents a unique design challenge, and each is an opportunity for architects, designers and planners to push themselves to experiment with new techniques, find original solutions and challenge themselves in new ways. Parklets are merely one example of this potentially transformative work.
All quotes taken from interview with Riyad Ghannam
New Materials And New Friends When Ghannam agreed to design the first parklet, the site was a critical factor. The parklet was to be located on Divisidero St, a very busy route for cars nearly all day. The platform would have to be sturdy and resistant to damage and yet able to be removed in two hours at a moments notice. Eventually Riyad found a solution. “I actually wracked my brain for a while trying to figure out the best way to do it. I’m not sure we came up with the best way but we got it built.” What Riyad had found was a paver system for roof decks. “It was exactly what we needed, and at first I thought, oh man, I just nailed it! This is going to be great... it turned out to be a lot more complicated then I initially thought. But I called up Bison, the manufacturer, and I said I was an architect from San Francisco and I told them about the project and they were excited because their product is really just for roof decks but they thought their product could work for a parklet too so they said, “Why not, lets try it!”
“They flew out from Colorado, where the company is, shipped all the materials and paid for everything and even helped me build it. All just because they thought it was a cool idea. And now they have the project featured on their website and I’ve been friends with them ever since” “Their system is still, maybe not the easiest, but the cheapest way to get it done, and it’s solid and it looks good.” Because this was the first parklet ever built, it was important that not only the product, but the process as well, set a precedent. The project engaged the community to help actually build the parklet and Mayor Newsom even came to its grand opening in support.
Firm: RG Architecture rg-architecture.com Designers: Riyad Ghannam Location: 914 Divisadero St. Cost: ~$5,000 Completed March 2010 Sponsoring Business: Mojo Bike Cafe Additional Stakeholders: SPUR, SF Bicycle Coalition, P2P Funding Structure: Paid for entirely by Mojo Cafe as a means to give back to the community that had supported them for so many years.
Opposite Page: Multiple digrams illustrating the Bison Paver System that Ghannam utilized to build the base of the first official parklet. All Photos and Diagrams Credit of RG Architecture.
Parklets Are Not a Career A discussion with Riyad Ghannam about the role Parklets play in sustaining a professional practice.
Riyad is the man responsible for introducing the world to parklets... accidentally. After building the first ever parklet as a Park(ing) Day installation for SPUR, he was hired to build the first few official parklets in San Francisco.
So how did this all start, how did you begin designing parklets?
thought it would. Power wanted it to have drainage and be able to be removed in two hours in case of an emergency and cost less than $5,000. So I got really interested in the challenge.
When I first was approached about parklets, I had some free time, and that’s why it all worked out so well. I first got approached right at the beginning of 2009, when the economy had just crashed. At the time I had been working for a large firm that ran out of work, so I decided to go off on my own at the worst possible time. That’s when Andres Power called me up and asked if I could help with this project that they wanted to build, and I said yea, sure. I had never even actually met Power at that point, he just found me through the installation I did at SPUR for Park(ing) Day.
Yes, the platform that you built for SPUR... that was actually the first parklet ever built right? Yea, I guess it’s getting credit for that. I mean, no one knew it was a parklet, it was an unbeknownst parklet. All we did was build some platforms and put some planters on them, it was more of a technical thing they asked my assistance for than a design thing. So that’s what Power saw and I got a call from him about a month later and he wanted me to design a permanent parklet. I was really hurting at the time, I was just always looking for work and so the parklet was good because I really could devote a lot of time to figuring it out... which was good because the project turned out to be a lot harder than I
And for that first parklet, did you do the project entirely pro bono? Yea, like I said, at the time I didn’t have much work so I had some free time anyway. But that actually became a problem later on as I did more parklets... basically business owners heard that these things only cost $10,000 and they pay for themselves in less than a year and there’s “this guy” who will do them for practically nothing.
So basically people were calling you up saying, hey so I hear you do free work? Yea, pretty much. For some reason people have it in their mind that this is a giveaway, they feel like because it’s public space it should be at almost no cost to them. So if I told someone that it cost me, even $5,000, which would actually be pretty low cost for the amount of design work I’m doing, they would laugh in my face. The fact is they actually take a long time to design, for example the last one I did had a drawing package that was 10 sheets of construction documents and included all the specs and building instructions. Because these have to be removable I have to put a lot of thought into them, I’m essentially engineering it and I’m not an engineer. These things are actually a lot more involved than people think.
It gets complicated pretty fast because you’re not allowed to fasten it to the street so you have to engineer it to be weighted properly so people can stand on any portion of it and it’s not going to tip over or warp. And then plants and railings create leverage on it, and we have to make sure the whole thing is structurally sound, so it actually gets pretty complex and it takes more time and skill than people think. So people think, well, I put a deck on my house and it only cost me $2,000 so why would I pay you even $5,000 to design this thing? Well, if it was just a wooden frame deck on the street than it would be that easy, but its not. So at this point I just can’t imagine a way to make parklets a financially viable project, there’s just no way to support yourself by doing them. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to do more, but as they are now I just can’t make any money off of them. So I think I’m sort of hanging my hat up on parklets.
But because of the way it all started, weren’t parklets actually what got you off the ground in the first place and allowed you to have your own practice? I’ll tell you what it did for me that’s been great, it got me a little bit of exposure. People heard about me and I mean, aside from parklets, why else would anyone care about me? I’m just this little dude that has hardly done anything. But I did a parklet and the next thing you know they’re asking me to design a bridge.
Is that a joke or did a parklet actually get you a commission for a bridge? I actually did design a bridge after this, it was just a concept design but I got it because of the parklets. It was for the SF Bike Coalition and they liked what I had done with the parklets and so they asked me to design a bridge. So that was something that came out of the whole parklet thing for me... I did all this parklet stuff and some people saw it and said, ok Riyad does this type of public design work, and so when they had a public project like a bridge, they came to me... and I actually really loved that bridge project because it was for the public.
So what about making a career out of designing in the public realm then? That’s pretty rare. Rebar for example, they’ve got this great new niche in designing urban public space, but that is super hard to do. No one else does it, aside from maybe John Peterson and Public Architecture. They are both in the same vein in terms of promoting ideas for urban infrastructure and renewal, just by using their professional eye to say, here’s an area of potential development and improvement that we have. And it’s all just on their own, I mean there’s no clients... they just take a look at things and throw them out there, and Rebar has managed to make a business out of it. But as I’ve started my own practice and try to compete in this city, it’s hard enough to make money. I work on some public projects, but they’re mostly pro bono, and I do them because I have a real passion about what I do. I mean despite the fact that there are much easier ways to make money and make a living, I wouldn’t want to do anything else at the moment because I actually like what I do.
So does that mean you’re done designing parklets forever? Would you ever come out of retirement? If people would actually pay me a fair amount for the work that goes into it then I would love to do more. I think they’re really fun and I think they’ve done a good thing for the city. I mean the loss of parking is a big deal in this city and yet it still hasn’t killed these projects, so that’s saying something. So now that they’re more proven, if people could hire me and actually pay me then I’d be able to devote more time to making them really special places and really designed well with all the attention that they need. You know, they could be really great spaces, and now they’ve been tested. I can understand people’s trepidation with the first few, because no one knew what they were going to get. No one knew if they were just going to get hit by a bus or what, it was a risk. But now I think it can be said that we have some quantifiable data on the economic and social benefits of them, so I think it’s time we really started investing in parklets. 43
EXPAND YOUR PRACTICE. Parklets help professionals explore the type of projects that they may not typically engage in. Taking on public interest projects can introduce you to new clients in the public sector and bring your firm new projects that align with your values.
Pavement to Parks Before parklets even existed, the Pavement to Parks Program was busy converting unused urban space into public plazas. One of the first was the plaza at 17th & Castro. After an initial “temporary” design by Public Architecture, Boor Bridges Architecture designed the permanent version. The project was done entirely pro bono, but Boor Bridges still gained quite a bit from it.
“It definitely introduced us to the people in the city [government], and gave us the reputation of being capable and good at doing these types of projects.” Not only did the project introduce the firm to new clients, it gave them an ideal opportunity to prove they were able to do this type of work. At the same time, the project provided somewhat of a testing grounds for Boor Bridges. It helped them further define (and refine) what their strengths were and allowed them to reaffirm their belief in practicing design within the public realm.
The success of the plaza project led Boor Bridges to multiple parklet projects as well as a much larger public park project that is currently underway. As Boor Bridges Principal Seth Boor put it, “the firm was already aligned with this belief in designing public space, and these projects gave us an outlet for doing it.”
Patience Is Not Always A Virtue Although projects like the 17th and Castro Plaza provide great potential for growth and seem to be ideal opportunities for architects to expand their practice, they are not generally the types of projects brought to the table by clients. This begs a larger question; why do architects limit themselves to solving only the problems that are brought to them? Why not also be identifiers of problems within the built environment which they have the skills and passion to solve. Public interest projects provide this opportunity. Collectively, a shift such as this towards more socially relevant and civically-minded work may open up new markets and client-groups for architects to serve. It could also provide a new model of practice, helping to expand both the role architects play and the profession as a whole.
ABOVE: An initial sketch of the 17th & Castro Plaza by Boor Bridges Architecture. Image Credit: Boor Bridges Architecture Quotes and Content taken from Interview with Seth Boor
Doing What We Care About Although the Four Barrel parklet was not a pro bono project, Boor Bridges knew from the beginning that they would not make much money, and they were OK with that. “You always end up doing a certain amount of work no matter how small the project is, so parklets are not really sustainable for our business... but the project was really indicative of a lot of the things we care about in our practice and we already had a good relationship with the owner.” The design responds to three crucial aspects of its context; its location in the Mission District (particularly on Valencia St.), it placement in front of a coffee shop, and its direct adjacency to a heavily trafficked bike lane. The project is also only a short walk from the Boor Bridges office, which allowed the designers to make use of their local knowledge of the neighborhood.
“What the Four Barrel Parklet exemplifies about our practice is that we really care about designing to a circumstance. So doing something that’s part of the public realm you have all these outside factors you get to respond to... we get really excited about work like that.”
Firm: Boor Bridges Architecture boorbridges.com Designers: Seth Boor Location: 375 Valencia St. Completed: June 2011 Sponsoring Business: Four Barrel Coffee .All Drawings Credit of Boor Bridges Architecture. All photos credit of Bruce Damonte.
Other Stakeholders: SF Dept. Public Works, SF MTA, SF Planning Dept. 47
Public Place-Making Tactics A discussion with Seth Boor about programming public space and what makes a parklet successful.
The Four Barrel Parklet is more clearly visually tied into its sponsoring business than most other parklets, was that an intentional design decision? We were definitely trying to tie them together. The parklet program is really interesting because it is basically a public park funded and supported by a private entity. In the same way that the Castro Park survives because of the business right next to it, a parklet even more so, has a direct relationship to the business that’s fronting it. What we had been seeing in other parklets were built structures that, to some extent or another, did or did not reflect the personality of their sponsoring business. We were really interested in having the parklet reflect the personality of the business a little bit more, and seeing what that boundary was between making it feel public and still usable by everyone but clearly associating it with the business in front of it.
But what about the common critique of parklets, that they are profit generators simply using a guise of public space? What’s really nice about the parklet program to me is that it’s a way for businesses to actually contribute to the streetscape without having to go through the really onerous city processes to get something done. That typically long process almost always results in the designs getting watered down by the time you’re done with it.
Seth Boor is one of the principals of Boor Bridges Architecture, the firm who designed the 17th and Castro Plaza as part of the Pavement to Parks program, as well as the Four Barrel Parklet and others.
So yes, we definitely wanted to bring the identity of Four Barrel out to the street in a way that made sense for a parklet but in a way that was open to everyone not just for those getting coffee.
Very interesting, which raises the question of whether using a parklet to simply extend a cafe onto the sidewalk is necessarily a bad thing if the end result is a positive impact on the streetscape and overall urban fabric. It’s definitely a good thing when successful businesses that care about the city are able to influence the way that public spaces look, and I don’t mind there being an extension of a café. I appreciate the way that parklets sort of draw the line… I think you would never want to make someone feel unwelcome if they weren’t buying coffee. So where they [Four Barrel] have drawn the line is that there is no table service in the parklet. We actually had planned to put trash cans out there, and that was not allowed because it seemed to be too integrated with the service of coffee, which I understand but at the same time I think it would be better with trash cans because it would be easier to keep clean. So I think the dividing line is that you can sit there and not get chased away. Even some plazas in Italy and other countries... when you go and sit at the wrong table the restaurant owner will come and chase you away because it’s their table. So in contrast to that I think it does really feel public.
Besides being in front of Four Barrel, was the parklet’s design influenced by other site or context factors? Yes, in general it really exemplifies many of the values that we care about, one of those being that we really focus on designing to a circumstance. So when doing something outside that’s part of the public realm but that is also tied to a business you have many outside factors that you get to respond to. So in this case; being on Valencia Street, being on a bike lane, being in the Mission, being a part of Four Barrel, all of these are things are things that we get really excited about incorporating into our design so it doesn’t feel like it was dropped in from a spaceship. The design is rooted in being in the Mission; the bike parking and the fact that it was designed around a centerpiece that you can actually pull a bike through, and it carries Four Barrel’s attitude about seating out into the street. We get really excited about work like that where we’re designing for a specific circumstance.
Do you think that your responsiveness to context and location are what allowed it to, in a sense, formalize a latent community space? Well Four Barrel was already extremely popular, I don’t think the parklet really affected their business that much at all, but the space out front was definitely not already a gathering space. Part of the great thing about parklets is that they do sort of allow you to make something out of nothing, in terms of the fact that previously there were just two parking spots and no one was sitting there and no one was hanging out there. So it definitely did create a community space rather than just formalize one that was already there.
Do you think there is potential to do that in other public places aside from in front of businesses? I think that the idea of Pavement to Parks is great because it takes under-used forgotten-about corners of the city and tries to do something with
them. But I think that the success of those things does have to do with program. I don’t think that introduced into a social vacuum a parklet will do much, it will just get trashed. I think the parklet either needs to bring some program of its own with it, or be next to a program that can support it. So if Four Barrel wasn’t there then there would be no reason to go there aside from just going to sit. You can look at some of the other pavement to park parks projects and some of them are more or less successful than others because of their proximity to a real user group, and a real group of people who will take care of them. Parklets as well as other public space, really depend on a program to draw people in as well as being tied to someone who is willing to take care of it.
Have you been able to apply that tactic to other projects in the public realm with similar success? Well we’re actually working on another project that’s similar to pavement to parks in that it’s using a leftover piece of the city, a little stub of a street, and we’re building a park there. It’s been a really troubled spot because it has a lot of drug dealing and its just this sort of dead end place but it’s an interesting spot in the city because a lot of foot and bike traffic goes through it. But there’s not really a program there, there’s nothing to activate the space. So as part of that park design we’re bringing in program, we’re designing the park to support food trucks so that food trucks can actually park there and serve food and it’s a nice place to eat. They’ve already been doing that as a pilot program, where just on the blank asphalt food trucks are parking there every Saturday and its been really successful at activating the space and bringing out people. It’s a good example of a project where, if we were just making a park, It would not be successful but if we’re making a park that supports and attracts certain programs like food trucks or farmers markets, then that has a much better chance at being successful. A program creates a user group to enjoy the park as well as a user group that has a vested interest in keeping it clean. 49
ENGAGE WITH LOCALS. Parklets present a unique opportunity to share knowledge and skills with a community. Leading a project in the public realm allows you to engage with your neighbors and have a lasting impact in the place you live and work.
Filling A Creative Void In 2002 Beth Rubenstein founded Out Of Site to provide free architecture, visual and performing arts programs for public high school students. One of the key components of Out Of Site is to use its programs as a means to inspire activism and community engagement1. In the summer of 2011, students in an Out Of Site architecture program were challenged to address a recurring complaint among community members in the Excelsior neighborhood, a lack of public space on the commercial corridor. Their solution: build a parklet that would establish a public gathering space and foster community interaction. Students designed and built a temporary parklet as part of an installation to show the community what could be. The installation was extremely well received, and Out Of Site turned to the Excelsior Action Group (EAG) to help build some more serious community support for a permanent parklet. While students continued working on their designs, EAG was on the ground, surveying the community and organizing public meetings for students to present ideas and receive feedback. As part of this goal, EAG put together a review panel of architects, planners, city officials and community members to help guide the project. Paul Chasin of the SF Planning Dept. was a part of that panel, and brought along a close friend and architect, Carig Hollow2.
“We didn’t only want to make a successful parklet, we wanted to provide a successful model for the community. This was the only public seating for a two-mile stretch. The idea was to spur the community to create other public spaces and revitalize their downtown corridor.” -E.A.G.3
Craig had studied architecture at the University of Washington and took part in the Wright Neighborhood Design-Build. After the review, Craig met and spoke with the project director Raffaella Falchi who offered him the opportunity to teach the design-build portion of the parklet project and act as a leader for the students. As an employee at a small firm that wasn’t able to take on much pro bono work, Craig was excited about the opportunity to work with a local community and help out by using his professional skills. Because he had completed multiple design-builds both as a student and later as a teacher, he was able to bring construction knowledge, architectural sensibility and a pedagogical background to the project4.
1: Out of Site Organization’s website 2: Interview with Paul Chasin on 6/29/12 3: Interview with John Carroll of EAG on 6/28/30. 4: Interview with Craig Hollow on 6/30/12 ABOVE: A 3-D computergenerated model of the temporary parklet installation the students designed and constructed to show the community what a parklet could be like. Image credit: Excelsior Action Group
Designing Their Own Community With almost 150 responses, EAG received a 95% approval rating for having a parklet from their community survey. Building this trust was a crucial step because in the past there had been a student-built project in Excelsior that had essentially failed, so the community was hesitant and cautious about buying into the project. Students also worked hard to develop designs that would discourage tagging and littering so the parklet would not become an eye-sore1. The project was, by nature, extremely public, so during the construction process there was a lot of interaction with the community. The students utilized this opportunity to explain exactly what they were doing to neighbors and reassure them that it was going to be a success.
Enriching Practice Via Engagement Leading the design-build not only allowed Craig to have an impact on the students and the community, it allowed him to reflect on his own work and think about potential future projects. Reflection is an extremely important factor in growth and development, and something that is often times overlooking in the professional world, pro bono work provides that opportunity.
â€œParklets show the value of public space, which is pretty inspiring and naturally leads to thinking differently about public space, beyond just parklets... it has a catalytic effect.â€?2 Excelsior Parklet Located in front of Mama Art Cafe
Firm: Craig Hollow Design craighollow.com Designers: Craig Hollow + Students from Out Of Site Location: 4754 Mission St. Cost: $12,000 Completed: July 2012
Funding: Had money from a Facade Beautification Grant from the Office of Workforce Development set aside for the parklet. Sponsoring Business: Mama Art Cafe Other Stakeholders: EAG, the Local Community, Planning Dept., Out Of Site
1: Interview with John Carroll of EAG on 6/28/30. 2: Interview with Craig Hollow PHOTOS: Students building the parklet and the finished product
Santa Rosa Avenue
San Juan Avenue
BELOW: Map of Mission Street Commercial Corridor- Excelsior Parklet is the only public seating for the two mile stretch of Mission Street that goes through the Excelsior Neighborhood All Photo and Image Credits: EAG
Public Space in The Bay A discussion with Ben Grant about the history of urban projects in San Francisco and how parklets are part of a new future. How does SPUR play a part in parklets? SPUR has just been interested and supportive from the beginning. The idea of testing stuff on the ground is really important, also it fits into a much broader consciousness about the public realm in San Francisco, and about the relative poverty of the public realm in our city that SPUR works to bring awareness to. We think of ourselves, or San Francisco broadly thinks of itself as being a great city, on par with Paris or Amsterdam or London… and San Francisco is absolutely incredible, there’s no way of getting around that, but we do not have terribly good public space. There is no sense that you have a series of public spaces that are linked by a network of streets, all of which function as public space themselves. We’ve really been hard pressed, I mean we’ve spent 40 years widening our streets and turning them into expressways and narrowing our sidewalks… and now we’re realizing that you actually can’t build enough lanes into a city of this density to make the traffic flow freely. You have to go the other way, you have to recognize that congestion is a symptom of a healthy city and no one has the right to expressway style movement in the middle of an urban environment. So as things get more and more crowded and congested, private auto use gets more and more difficult, frustrating and problematic, but transit runs better and better because you get the efficiencies of mass transit. So why not lean into those things?
Ben Grant is the Public Realm and Urban Design Programs Manager at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), a historic organization devoted to “good planning and good government in the bay area.”
This also relates to the fact that many San Franciscans drive and have backyards. We have a built pattern that insulates the wealthy in particular from public space, so public space becomes just one of the options. It’s very different when you go to a city where everyone depends on public space and everyone depends on public transit. In those cities people with power and resources depend on those things as public goods. In San Francisco, less so. In this city people with money and choices and resources tend to have yards and garages, and they may commute to work on transit but its not the same kind of thing as in New York City where Michael Bloomberg rides the subway to work. In contrast we have a city where the public realm has been left to deteriorate, relative to other cities at least, I mean its still a great city to live in, but we talk about San Francisco as if its perfect and its done and “how could you possibly change it.” I do think it’s changing though, I think that’s the future. I think there’s a lot of young energy around cycling and around public space and around transit. A lot more people are willing to live a much more urban life, and I think that’s really to the benefit of the city, and I think parklets are very much a part of that.
So what about the future of parklets? Where does it go from here and what does that change mean for the city? There is this idea that the first generation of temporary is over and it comes to a decision
point. So either you take it out and go back to the previous condition, or you make it permanent, or you re-up it as a temporary thing. Whatever the solution is, it’s important that temporary not be construed as a substitute for permanent. And this is where the CEQA angle breaks down and you can sort of beat CEQA at its own game. You can take advantage of the project having been there if you can do the studies and the analysis of impact while its in place, and then use that analysis to make the case for something more permanent. That’s exactly what they’re doing with the bike lanes. And that’s a very legitimate function of temporary projects. But there’s a way that temporary can end up being a substitute for thoughtful committed long term investment. I’ve heard John Bela at Rebar talk about the idea of iterative place making, which is another great thing that parklets enable you to do. The idea is to do a test run, in the real world, with a certain design, and a certain approach. Then when it comes to the end of its life, if you’re going to go permanent, you have a chance to get things right the second time around. And that very much what could be happen with parklets in the near future, we use them as test runs and eventually implement permanent version. So all in all I think its awesome, and its really engaging for a young generation who might have to wait an awfully long time to be able to work on the kinds of public spaces that they’re interested in creating. In the mean time, having one foot in that kind of guerilla intervention world, and legitimizing that… it really reflects well on the civic culture in San Francisco. The fact that the organs of government were able to see the potential and facilitate more of it instead of just shutting it down the way it might have happened in another city… that’s really important. There’s also a hunger on the part of the planners and the people who work in the incredibly constrained setting of San Francisco culture, and CEQA and regulatory frameworks. They are able to now say to themselves something like “Oh my gosh, there’s a way to actually do something! I’ve wanted to do something for my entire career, and I’ve never been able to do anything, and now I can!”
“At the big picture level one of the things that parklets and these other experiments are doing is demonstrating the power and value of public space, and that turning a parking space into a public space isn’t just about taking away a parking space. It’s about something else, it’s about creating new life in the city, it’s about creating a space for things to happen, and guess what? When you do that, things actually do happen. The kind of reticence and nervousness in a city like San Francisco towards any kind of change will get defused when people say, ‘Hey you know, I like what’s happening here, I can see it with my own eyes!’ These larger ideas about revitalization, some people are equipped in their minds eye to see them and some people aren’t. So for people to see that its not threatening and that the benefits far outweigh the negatives… I think that’s really powerful. Collectively all these experiments are showing San Francisco that the city is not finished, and not perfect, and more importantly that there are stories yet to be written and our public realm can still be much better.” 55
BUILD YOUR IDEAS. Parklets are opportunities to engage in design that will be quickly realized. Short-term projects such as parklets allow you to be creative, test out your research, experiment with new concepts, and get to see them built.
“As an architecture firm, your regular practice benefits from doing experimental projects. It’s a healthy and important experience, and it really helps you grow and advance.” An Opportunity to Build Through Dune, OPA was able to further develop their research in both sophistication and spatial organization. This enabled them to apply it at a larger scale, and thus allow it to become progressively more relevant for architecture.
Research Becomes Architecture Luke Ogrydziak and Zoe Prillinger founded Ogrydziak/Prillinger Architects (OPA) in 2000 with a commitment to research as a critical part of the office’s practice. This commitment led OPA to a unique and experimental area of computational research; a computer program based on the concept of responsive growth. Although this work was intellectually satisfying for OPA, it was somewhat limited to small scale installations that could be funded internally or through arts grants. Then, while working on a project called Dune, the research took a turn in the right direction. OPA realized they could use it to control surfaces and develop organic forms out of geometric planes, essentially creating a synthetic landscape. “Dune was a breakthrough because it allowed us to actually apply the research to a specific site and geographic context.” The computer program (which OPA developed in-house) allows users to create nodes, which act as germination points, and set rules, which control growth. For Dune, OPA utilized the program to generate a structure that would be highly responsive to its specific context. Dune was designed to have a remediating geomorphological effect on its site; its placement and form actively protect adjacent sand dunes from erosion, thus preventing the natural habitat from deterioration. The result is a synthetic sand dune that stabilizes and restores its immediate environment, while functioning as a beautiful beach house inside.
Soon after, OPA was approached by the local resturant Farm:table with a request to design a parklet. OPA saw the project essentially as a grant; an opportunity to both realize a conceptual design and build something for the public. Excited about the potential, OPA signed on to the project. The client was ambitious and opportunistic, and wanted to push the boundaries of what a parklet could be. They had four goals for the project; to create a community space, to be responsive to context/location, to design & build an immersive landscape, and to do something creative and new. OPA was eager to contribute to the emerging shift in parklet design from public place to community space. The location, the Tenderloin, was a particularly challenging neighborhood to build community space in because of its extremely dense with social and economic challenges. But because OPA lived and worked nearby they were able to bring a unique synthesis of local and professional knowledge to the project. Most of all, the client excited them, “It was very odd to work on a project where everyone was doing it just to see what could be done, it was super pleasant.”
All content and quotes taken from Interview with Luke Ogrydziak TOP: The computational design for Dune, showing the red triangle that was the node of growth. Bottom: A rendering of Dune. The project is currently in development and preliminary review. It has already received an AIA award as well as significant press. Image credit: OPA
The Perfect Match
Designing A Community Space
Once OPA began working on the project, they quickly realized that their computational research had the potential to address all of the client’s goals. They had learned to control its output to produce spaces responsive to both site and use, and the project gave them an ideal opportunity to test the research out in a new, complex, diverse and highly public context.
Farm:table had a passionate desire to create a parklet that would truly function as a community space. They spoke to OPA about the various behaviors they wanted the parklet to accommodate and the various type of people who would use it. Through these discussions, OPA was able to develop a psychological narrative for the space, which helped guide their design process.
“It was an opportunity to test out this research and finally get to see it in real life. We didn’t do it to get more projects... we would like to do more work like this, but we do this type of experimental work anyway because we know that it’s important for our practice.”
The goal was to create a passive program for the parklet so that the spaces and surfaces were flexible, versatile and open for interpretation. There is no pressure for any particular use, instead the design is functionally adaptable, supporting a multitude of behaviors and thus responsive to its users.
In response to the intensely urban location, OPA conceptualized the parklet as a mini escape valve, providing what was missing; green space and landscapes. They did this by building a synthetic landscape whose geometric form referenced the hard edged physical nature of the parklet’s surroundings, thus OPA’s solution integrated the parklet into its context on multiple levels.
There was also significant support for the parklet from the community. Over $15,000 was raised via a Kickstarter campaign, demonstrating residents’ active investment in community space in their neighborhood. Of the Kickstarter backers, 36% lived within four blocks of Farm:table, 48% lived in immediately adjacent neighborhoods, and 78% lived somewhere within the city of San Francisco (Percentages based on a polling sample of 50 respondents, out of 186 project backers).
Firm: Ogrydziak/Prillinger oparch.net Designers: Luke Ogrydziak and Zoe Prillinger Location: 754 Post st. Cost: $25,000 Funding: $15,000 raised through kickstarter, additional funds supplied by Farm:table Completed: July 2012
Sponsoring Business: Farm:table Other Stakeholders: Local Community, Planning Dept., OPA
1: A digram showing the behavioral mapping done for the parkletâ€™s design 2: View of the parklet from inside of Farm:table 3: The original geometric research which the parklet design was generated from 4: The plan view of the parklet, taken directly from the diagram 5-6: Wood work completed for parklet interior. The parklet was built with great help from Forsythe General Contractors, who built the parklet at cost.
Photos credit: Agency Charlie Tumblr All Diagrams credit of: OPA
The Gateway Drug A discussion with John Peterson about the Public Space Strategy Project and the potential futures and evolutions of parklets. What is your impression of the whole parklet movement and where its going? I believe that there’s a value in the temporary version of the parklet movement. Even if parklets come and go, and don’t last for so long, there can be a lot of value in that. Through the knowledge that’s gained or through habits that are developed... or maybe it’s successful for only a short period of time and then it’s not successful after that, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t still valuable. And then there’s the question about something longer term. Does this lead to something other than more parklets? Does it evolve into something that’s a more permanent version? That’s one option. Does it just lead to people saying hey, we need more outdoor space, we like this idea of being on the street, and then that leads to decisions being made about other public amenities beyond parklets. Or is it that these things get put in front of a business and are initially temporary, but at some point start to deteriorate and eventually have to be removed, but then the business decides they like and want to pay for a long term version because it’s been so successful for them. It seems like those are the three options; the individual parklet matures into something permanent, or it doesn’t mature into something permanent but still has some value in the fact that its ephemeral, or it elicits actions and responses other than more parklets.
John Peterson is the Founder and President of Public Architecture, the non-profit behind the 1% Program and the leaders of the movement advocating for the inclusion of pro bono work into the design and architectural professions.
The third option, parklets leading to something else, something new, is the one that seems particularly important. What do you think is ‘beyond’ a parklet? What are parklets the start of? One could just be more robust public life, more robust street life. People will get used to being outside and they will get used to being on the street and they get used to running into their neighbors and they have a different sense of that value. So they spend more time on their porch or they spend more time in their local park, or they get involved long term and decide they want a better street life, and there’s some effort to invest in the more permanent infrastructure. If people are spending more time on the street and they’re enjoying that, one would imagine that would lead to higher expectation of public life.
Then the question is, how do you formalize that next thing? How would someone design or build something beyond a parklet, which could help facilitate that process? For one thing there is existing infrastructure that’s already in place, so there’s planning departments, redevelopment agencies, people who make decisions in cities, commissions, and public meetings about investing into public right of way. It might be that the parklet does need to have a specific next generation, but it could also
just be that all of this begins to elevate the discussion about the quality of public life. For instance, you could send really good food trucks all over a city. If they were very successful over a three-year period in a place that didn’t really have very good food then you would likely expect that people to change their behavior. They would start advocating for better food in the restaurants in that city, and you would expect that the restaurants would respond and start having better food. So it’s not necessarily what’s next for food trucks, its might just be that the existing infrastructure of restaurants will start elevating the quality of the food that they’re providing in response to them. Maybe that’s a successful outcome of the parklets. People start to have higher expectations of street life and they expect the streets to be better designed, they expect there to be more amenities for spending time outside in public life, and that slowly changes the existing infrastructure. That’s at least one version of what could be next.
That seems to relate to your second point about there being value in the temporary nature of parklets. Yes, what if there was a parklet program that could be inserted into almost any city and it was understood from the beginning to be a temporary program that wasn’t really about creating parklets, it was about creating some social or cultural shift amongst the people who experience parklets. That’s a very interesting idea, particularly if you took cities that simply didn’t have many resources, didn’t have many public amenities, and basically your approach was to first start a habit and get people used to it. I’ve once heard this story that there was this guy who invested heavily in the future of ice and ice production. But this was far before ice was in high demand by most people. In fact most people didn’t see a use for ice as all, and ice use was very limited at the time. So this guy essentially
invented drinks that required ice or had ice in them, and then promoted them; he gave them away for free and did all kinds of promotions. In this way he was creating a market by showing people in person. Drug pushers do the same thing. So parklets are sort of the drug-pusher version of urban amenities. You go out there and you infiltrate a city with these parklets; they’re pretty cheap and we’ve got a strategy to do them, and we’ve made accommodations in the planning code and the building code to allow these things to go up relatively quickly. So lets say our goal is to see 150 of these things go up across a city and from the start it’s set to be only a five year period, and then we’re going to phase them out. People over that period will spend a lot more time outside; they are eating outside more and they know twice as many neighbors as before and they realize they like this. Then people start demanding that we widen the sidewalks and put more street trees out and things like that.
That’s a very interesting idea, which relates closely to what the folks at Rebar said about the experiential power of temporary installations... but do you think that it’s actually feasible as a catalyst for the type of cultural shift that would be needed to really cause change at the higher levels? Yes, what we were talking about is a cultural shift. I can be realistic about the impact of it, but I actually don’t think it’s that tiny. The impact is bigger than the obvious usage. For example, I’ve probably spent no more than 15 minutes in a parklet, maybe 30 minutes all combined. I’ve just never sat in one for very long, and yet I have a different sense of the city because of them. I have a sense that people sort of care more, I have a sense that people are enthusiastic about the city, more proactive about the city, more engaged. That actually gives me a different feeling about the city and the people in it. If there is an impact on the city and the people in it and their motivations, that’s a profound change.
Part 3: ANALYSIS There is much debate about what the future of parklets is, and whether or not they even have a future. Weâ€™ve collected the viewpoints of a few key designers and leading figures to shed light on what might be next.
Urban Redevlopment How Parklets Might Play a Role in the Future
Implications for Designers Where Parklets fit into Professional Practice
A Theory of Parklets Building a Sustainable Future for Parklets
Suggestions for Continued Research and Experimentation
Urban Redevelopment Parklets, along with other types of DIY Urbanism, are an important development for the future of urban redevelopment, and their evolution and maturation are even more important. Firm: Rebar | rebargroup.org Designers: Matthew Passmore, John Bela, Blaine Merker, and the rest of Rebar. Locations: North Beach Cost and Date: ??$15,000ish Completed in May 2011?? Sponsoring Business: Other Stakeholders: SF Bicycle Coalition, Merchants Assos., Planning Dept.
Give the Power to the People The concept of a parklet is actually far more political than most citizens might realize. Historically public space has always been an imposition of will by the city and the powers that be. City agencies decide where public spaces go and tell the people how to use them. Parklets are a complete reversal of this process. It is the citizens who find small under-used spaces within the city and identify them as failing to achieve their true potential. It is the citizens that say, wait a second, this is public space! More importantly, they recognize that as public space, it can be used for a wide variety of purposes, and as the public it is, at least in part, their decision what that space be used for. This is a complete reversal of power and is highly political. Innovation and change are not typically seen in planning departments and city bureaucracy. This isnâ€™t because innovation is unwelcome, but because generally there are monumental mechanisms in place designed to prevent outsiders from doing harm to the city. Unfortunately, these very same mechanisms have the unintended side effect of preventing nearly every type of new development, regardless of its potential efficiency or its potential ability to help fix the system. In short, the laws that were enacted to prevent new projects from unjustly taking advantage of the city, end up preventing smart progressive projects from materializing. In San Francisco, a major barrier to change is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This act was immeasurably important; it is the reason why our environment has not been entirely decimated by private firms and corporations, it has literally helped save the planet. As a result of CEQA, any new project must undertake an extensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in order to move forward, which essentially gauges the impact that the new project will have on a multitude of factors including air & water quality, density, transportation, etc. So if someone is trying to build something that will be detrimental to the natural environment, CEQA will help prevent that from happening, but CEQA will also prevent just about everything else from happening if it alters the environment.
However, there is a way to get exemption from CEQA, if a project is temporary and entirely removable then it does not have to conduct an EIR. This temporary aspect of parklets is what makes them so nimble and so easy to get approved. More importantly, this allows the parklets (or other temporary projects like bike lanes) to be studied closely and documented in a real world context, rather than with hypothetical models. Thus, if impacts are documented in a highly detailed and accurate fashion, a temporary project can in effect be used as an EIR in and of itself, and thus act as a means to circumvent the CEQA process. This is hugely important for cities, particularly San Francisco where new innovative projects are so often shot down. As a result the city is able to test out ideas on a temporary scale and see if they work or not, before trying to implement permanent solutions. This process of iterative place-making is an extremely powerful tool in the larger context of urban redevelopment. It is what has allowed parklets to exist, and more importantly it has allowed for their continued growth and evolution. The next question then, is will the people do what is right with this new power? The answer is yes, and the proof is in the evolution of parklets that is currently taking place. At the start of the parklet program, businesses sponsored parklets, which were essentially functioning as extensions of cafes. Though this is not necessarily a bad thing if the goal is to improve the streetscape, this was not the true potential of parklets. As the second and third wave of parklets are being built, we are witnessing a shift that has left the planning department with a grin on their face. Parklets are evolving from public places to community spaces. We are seeing parklets be funded through crowdsourcing programs like Kickstarter and we are seeing parklets being designed to support their local neighbors, rather than their sponsoring business. This is only the beginning for parklets, and they will continue to evolve... into what, no one can yet say. But the fact that they have quickly shifted to entities that are actually supporting community, leaves us very hopeful.
Implications for Designers Parklets are a means for local businesses and designers to give back to their community. As small scale pro bono projects, parklets provide an opportunity to give back without a large time or financial commitment. Firm: Rebar | rebargroup.org Designers: Matthew Passmore, John Bela, Blaine Merker, and the rest of Rebar. Locations: North Beach Cost and Date: ??$15,000ish Completed in May 2011?? Sponsoring Business: Other Stakeholders: SF Bicycle Coalition, Merchants Assos., Planning Dept.
The Hidden Potential of Parklets As the Parklet concept has progressed, each new Parklet evolves into an improved iteration of what has already been built. This has been shaped by the Planning Department refining their RFP, based on examples of what has worked and what has not. But it also seems to come from the power of the designers and architects responsible for the parklets, and their desire to push the boundaries of what a Parklet can be. As more Parklets are built, the standard is raised and new possibilities are realized. Unfortunately, in most cases parklets are unable to generate a profit for a design firm. The projects are too small to warrant substantial fees, and in many cases are done Pro Bono. Yet the level of detail required to produce construction documents is time consuming and designers often struggle with the decision to engage in a project that will cost them time and money in an already poor economic climate. Yet there are still designers and architects who do choose to engage in these projects, because although they do not present opportunities for financial gain, they present other substantial benefits if approached in a calculated manner. There are a number of benefits that a parklet can provide for a design firm, listed here are only five. First, parklets present an opportunity to look for an interesting design challenge. Often times the tight constraints of such a small scale project demand innovative solutions and provide designers an opportunity to develop creative solutions in a context that they do not normally practice. This process of creative problem solving is nearly universally accepted as an important and beneficial aspect of any design practice, it is the exercising of our creative design capabilities. Second, because parklets are built within the context of the public right of way, designers are forced to confront unfamiliar territory that is outside of their typical practice. Often times this will result in individuals and firms developing new areas of expertise and new design capabilities. Namely, the ability to identify other projects within the public realm. By gaining the ability to identify societal problems in the public realm that can
be addressed through the lens of design, firms create new opportunities for themselves to utilize their professional skills, and potentially enter new markets. A pro bono parklet design project can be the first step towards contracts from the city for larger public projects. Third, parklets can be seen as design-build grants, as opportunities to see experimental designs realized for free. Research is an integral part of a firm’s internal growth and development, but is too often neglected due to lack of funding. Parklets present a unique opportunity for a firm to have complete control over a project (partly because of its small scale) and get to try out new ideas. Parklets can function as a testing grounds for a firm to experiment with new techniques and methods, and get to see those experimentations built in full scale and thus be able to evaluate them in a way that is simply not possible on paper or CAD. This means that parklets can not only act as creative exercises that push a firm’s research to new levels, but also as a means to test out concepts that could potentially become profitgenerating techniques in the future. Fourth, parklets present an opportunity for a design firm to engage with a local community and use their professional skills to benefit a neighborhood. Generosity should not be underrated as a benefit for design firms. Pro Bono projects present designers the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of others and the well being of entire communities. Internally, this type of work sends employees the message that they are working for a firm that actually cares about the world and wants to improve it, leading to greater employee satisfaction and commitment1. Investing in local communities not only provides designers with a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose, but can also help build community relations by demonstrating a firm’s values. This may lead to greater interest from the media and help generate future clients. Lastly, public realm projects like parklets contribute to the larger shift in the design community towards more socially conscious and civically minded work, helping architecture to become a more relevant profession2.
1: “Architect Meet Your Non-Profit” Booklet produced by Public Architecture. 2: Whitney M. Young Jr. in his 1968 address at the AIA National Convention.
A Theory of Parklets Based on a review of the 29 parklets currently operational in San Francisco, a framework was developed as a means to assess the success of parklets and act as a guide for future parklets. Firm: Rebar | rebargroup.org Designers: Matthew Passmore, John Bela, Blaine Merker, and the rest of Rebar. Locations: North Beach Cost and Date: ??$15,000ish Completed in May 2011?? Sponsoring Business: Other Stakeholders: SF Bicycle Coalition, Merchants Assos., Planning Dept.
Reactive, Relevant and Responsive As a result of conducting the research that led to this document, the authors have developed a theory of parklets. In fact, it is not so much of a theory as it is a framework, a set of distinct approaches to designing a parklet that we have found consistent in all the parklets that are most successful. This framework is based on the idea of responsiveness and relevancy, and is comprised of five categories; location, demographics, community, program and funding. Although each is distinct, there is significant overlap between all five, emphasizing the holistic approach with which parklets should be designed. In order for a parklet to be successful it must be responsive to its physical location. A parklet will be used and more widely accepted when it is clearly aesthetically tied into its surroundings. In response, parklets should be designed to visually fit into their contexts. A good example of this is the Four Barrel Parklet. Located in front of the iconic Four Barrel Coffee House and adjacent to an extremely busy bike lane, the parklet acts as a bridge, building off of the aesthetic and seating style of the coffee house, while using materials and finishes that directly relate to biking culture. When walking by it you barely even notice it’s there because it fits in so well. Demographics are a critical factor in designing a parklet; if it does not make sense for the type of people who will use it, then it will go unused. Observational studies are extremely helpful in this task as a means to see first hand the demographics of the users. A good example of this is the Powell Street Parklet. Located on the Powell Street Promenade, the most heavily foot-trafficked location in the city, the parklet provides very little seating, but instead functions as a space for tourists to step off of the crowded sidewalk to look around at the sites and avoid holding up pedestrian traffic. It relives the congestion of the sidewalks by providing an alternate viewing platform. Essential to a parklet’s success is its embeddedness in the culture of its community. The parklet should in some way reflect the culture of the specific neighborhood or hyper-
local context in which it is placed, thus providing something for the community that is needed. A good example of this is the Devils Teeth parklet. The Devils Teeth Bakery had long been a focal point of the community, neighbors would stand outside and converse while eating their baked goods. The parklet simply formalized this community space by providing ample seating in a space that had a clear latent need for it. For a parklet to operate well, it must have an appropriate and functional program, this need is absolutely essential within public space. If a public space does not have a clear program, a clear intended use, then it is likely to be frequently vacant and slowly become a site for undesirable activities. To avoid this, parklets should be designed to support a specific functional program that fits into its geographic context. A prime example of this is the Arizmendi Parklet. The Arizmendi Bakery is so popular and crowded that the 40 feet of sidewalk in front of it had become a serious problem for pedestrians. The parklet provides ample seating for every age group, thus inviting customers to step off the sidewalk and thus relieve the pedestrian density and make it easier for others by to pass by. Although not a part of its physical being, funding is a critical part of a parklet’s success. It is important that the funder(s) have chosen to pay for the parklet for the right reasons, and understand that it is truly intended to be for the public. Several new parklets have relied heavily on crowdsourcing their funding as a means to create local community buy-in, both figuratively and literally. The parklet at Farm:table is possibly the best example of this, raising over $15,000 through Kickstarter. This method ensures that there is inherent vested interest in the success of the parklet and provides an immediate dedicated and supportive user group before it’s even built. It is important to emphasize that each of these five categories is closely tied to one another, and when designing a parklet, it will often be hard to draw the line between them. This is perfectly OK. Our theory of parklets is not meant as a rule book, but simply a framework for use in designing parklets that are both responsive and relevant.
The Future... Parklets have two futures; temporary and permanent. These two futures are not mutually exclusive, and in conjunction could potentially cause real systemic change in not only San Francisco, but all cities. Firm: Rebar | rebargroup.org Designers: Matthew Passmore, John Bela, Blaine Merker, and the rest of Rebar. Locations: North Beach Cost and Date: ??$15,000ish Completed in May 2011?? Sponsoring Business: Other Stakeholders: SF Bicycle Coalition, Merchants Assos., Planning Dept.
To Stay, Or Not To Stay... Both Are Good The future of Parklets is unclear. It’s likely that the number of parklets in San Francisco will double, triple or even quadruple within the next few years. As new parklets are built, current parklets must also adapt to their changing surroundings and question the limits of their temporary existence. Central to the future of individual parklets and the parklet movement is the question of what happens as a result of the parklets? This question can be answered in essentially two ways; either parklets evolve into something permanent, or parklets remain a temporary type of installation. Each possible future brings with it much hope for the impact of parklets, and although both possibilities are quite different, they are not mutually exclusive. If parklets were to evolve into something more permanent, what would they be? It is hard to predict what a permanent parklet might look like or how it would function, but regardless, a permanent version of parklets has the potential for great impact on the city, lets explore, hypothetically, what those impacts could be. As permanent parklets begin to multiply across San Francisco, a network emerges, something akin to the Highline, but at street level and much more fully integrated into urban life. This network of parklets would bring with it various benefits. It would likely be a tourist attraction, bringing money into the city and acting as an economic stimulus, perhaps a map and walking tour could be developed to formalize it as an attraction. For the non-tourists, it would be a significant increase in usable public space within a city that currently is quite lacking, and would simultaneously avoid issues of vagrants as a result of being maintained by sponsoring businesses. As the shift from public places to community spaces intensifies, this network of parklets would act to promote hyper-local community cohesion, bringing neighbors together more often and doing so within the context of the public realm, thus adding to the overall street culture of the city. With more people on the streets, the network of parklets would help make the city a safer place by increasing what Jane Jacobs famously called “eyes on the street.”
This network of parklets could also function to educate citizen about public space, both explicitly through the adoption of some type of learning resource linked to each parklet, and tacitly through the experience of inhabiting public space more regularly. Finally, businesses might start to invest more heavily in permanent parklets, rather than building them as inexpensively as possible. Owners might choose to devote more money to the design of a parklet and thus help push them towards new evolutions. If parklets were to remain temporary, they would also present a unique value and worth, one which we have already begun to see. There is great power in temporary projects because they allow people to have a first hand experience. Even if parklets are all torn down tomorrow, their impact will still be felt through the shift in culture that they have precipitated. They have already led to larger experiments such as Sunday Streets and Summer Streets, and are helping change people’s minds about the necessity for cars in the city. It’s widely accepted within the realm of urban planning today that more pedestrian-centric cities are healthier cities, and parklets can help people to recognize this fact and act upon it. There are many directions to go from here, we are in a very optimistic era and the upcoming generation will only further progress and innovate in the improvement of the pubic realm. Perhaps in the future we will see a formalized parklet program that can travel from city to city changing hearts and minds. For now though, what would be most beneficial towards the larger movement would be further study. Currently there is essentially zero quantitative evidence supporting parklets*, and yet there is almost endless anecdotal evidence. Greater and more thorough investigation is needed in order to understand how parklets have had an effect on citizens’ perceptions of the city and their lives within it, as well as similar questions asked of government agents and powerful decision makers. If future research is able to demonstrate, both quantitatively and qualitatively that parklets have had a statistically significant impact on the urban landscape and the lives of its citizens then the doors will be wide open for continued experimentation and new evolutions.
* In August of 2012 the first MLA Thesis on Parklets and Public Plazas was completed by Robin Abad Ocubillo of USC School of Architecture titled “Experimenting with the Margin: Parklets and Plazas as Catalysts in Communities and Government”
A How-To Chart for People Wanting Parklets
Map of All Parklets
Addresses and Sponsoring Businesses for All 29
Documentation and Explanation of Our Data Collection
Credits for All Our Sources and References
Thank You A Final Word of Thanks to All Those Who Helped Us
Parklet-O-Matic The process that must be undertaken in order to implement a parklet is a bit more involved then it may initially appear. The Parklet-O-Matic helps to explain the steps in the process.
Planning Department Opens Request for Proposals (RFP) Submit Application
-Site Plan & Preliminary Design -Documented outreach & support from neighbors
Meets minimum requirements YES The Parklet-O-Matic is a flow chart designed to help explain the process of getting a parklet installed, from the opening of the RFP all the way through final construction. Each major step in the process is shown within a box at the center of the diagram, while more detailed steps that must be taken by the applicant are shown to the right. Black circles represent actions taken by the city. This diagram is intended to give a brief overview of the process, highlighting each of the major steps that are taken by both the applicant and the city. The information presented has been adopted from the original Parklet-O-Matic designed by the San Francisco Planning Department.
Public Notice Posted CITY EXAMINER HEARING
Develop Concept Design Submit Construction Docs to Planning Department Revisions- as required
Approved by Planning Approval from MTA Submit final paperwork to Planning Department
KEY action from applicant action from city
Planning submits paperwork to DPW REVISIONS
APPROVED (**NOTE) After the hearings, whether accepted or rejected, the public has the option to appeal the decision
NOT APPROVED Pay fee to DPW DPW issues Permit Contact DPW
Construction DPW Inspections Finish Construction
17 19 8
Map of All 29 Parklets Parklets are scattered throughout the city, but tend to pop-up in bunches and clusters around particular neighborhood.
Trouble Coffee 4033 Judah Street
16 Freewheel Bicycles 914 Valencia St
Devil’s Teeth Bakery 3876 Noriega St
17 Deepistan Parklet 937 Valencia St
Arizmendi Bakery 1331 9th Ave
18 Escape from NY Pizza 22nd & Bartlett
Martin Mack’s 1568 Haight Street
19 Fabric8 3318 22nd St
Mojo Bicycle Cafe 639 Divisadero Street
20 Crepe House 1132 Valencia St
Cafe Abir 1300 Fulton St
21 Cafe Seventy8 78 29th St
Squat & Gobble 3600 16th Street1
22 farm:table 754 Post st.
Just for Fun Art Store 3982 24th St.
23 Paradise Massage 548 Jones
Martha Bros. Coffee 3868 24th St.
24 Powell St. Promenade 5446 Noriega
10 Excelsior 4754 Mission St
25 Farley’s 1315 18th St
11 Fillmore Stoop 2410 California St.2
26 Yerba Buena (various locations)
12 The Crepe House 1755 Polk St.3
27 Caffe Greco 423 Columbus Ave
13 Quetzal Cafe 1234 Polk St.
28 Caffe Roma 526 Columbus Ave
14 Mad Wills Food Co 384 Hayes St
29 Tony’s Pizza 1570 Stockton St
15 Four Barrel Coffee 375 Valencia
PHOTO CREDITS: 1B rian Kusler http://www.flickr.com/photos/briankusler/5647205052 2 Daniel Bahmani, http://newfillmore.com/2012/07/09/creating-a-new-public-space/ 3 Bryan Goebel, http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/05/18/parkletsbegin-sprouting-up-on-polk-street/ 4 http://510parklet.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/cafe-seventy878-29th-st-sf/
Research Methods The information in this document represents the data collected in San Francisco over a two week period. Listed here are the various methods of collections employed before, during and after those two weeks.
Interviews were conducted with individuals from the Planning Department, the Bicycle Coalition, the Public Architecture staff and interns, business owners, parklet designers, parklet organizers, staff of multiple related nonprofit organizations, transit advocates, public users, tourists, writers, architects, San Francisco residents, and leaders of neighborhood coalitions.
Authors compiled data on amenities in each parklet using a standardized checklist and short answer section, making note of all physical attributes as well as uses and behaviors occurring during that time.
The authors personally visited 26 of the 29 parklets in the city and documented their own impressions of each. During these visits photography was used as a means to document each parklet and keep a record of each. An archival search was completed on each of the parklets highlighted in the case studies section, including extensive investigation of blog posts as a means to gauge community input and community reactions.
An online poll administered via the website Kickstarter was used to determine the location of â€œbackersâ€? for the farm:table fund-raising initiative. The survey asked whether individuals had contributed to the fund-raising and if so how far they lived from the site. Archival data on number of parklets, dates of completion and estimates of cost was obtained through numerous online searches and personal interviews.
In all cases in which it was possible, multiple involved parties were interviewed as a means to gain as many perspectives as possible and thus form a clearer and more honest understanding of the process that went on to create each parklet. Various newspaper and journal articles were read and their content was filtered and incorporated into both the authorsâ€™ analysis as well as the understanding of each case study.
CREDITS: All interviews referenced were conducted by Gilad Meron and Katie Mays, full interview transcripts available upon request with written consent of interviewee. All photos not credited in the document are property of the authors, for further information or for request to use the photos in the document please contact the authors. Page 13:  Mekes, Karen R. “3 Long Beach restaurants to develop ‘parklets.’” Press Tellegram Long Beach California. January 4, 2012. http://www.presstelegram.com/news/ci_19675624 Page 17:  Crowley, Michael. “Honk, Honk, Aaah!” The New York Magazine. May 25, 2009. http://nymag.com/news/features/56794/ index1.html  Bruni, Frank. “Bicycle Visionary” The New York Times. September 10, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/opinion/ sunday/bruni-janette-sadik-khan-bicycle-visionary.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all  Grynbaum, Michael M. “For City’s Transportation Chief, Kudos and Criticism” The New York Times. March 4, 2011. http:// www.nytimes.com/2011/03/06/nyregion/06sadik-khan.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all  Chaban, Matt. “Janette Sadik-Khan is the Best Mechanic…” The New York Observer. September 6, 2011. http://observer. com/2011/09/road-warrior-janette-sadik-khan-is-the-best-mechanic-the-city-streets-have-had-in-a-generation-so-why- do-motorists-dislike-her-so-much/  Flint, Anthony. Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City. Random House Printing, New York. 2005. Page 21:  Pavement To Parks Website: http://sfpavementtoparks.sfplanning.org/ Page 27:  Merker, Blaine. Chpater 4: Taking Place: Rebars Absurd Tactics in Generous Urbanism. Routledge Publishing, 2010. New York.
ADDITIONAL SOURCES: The following is a list of sources from which content was influenced. Text was not taken directly from a source but rather incorporated into the authors greater understanding of parklets. We apologize for the inability to track specific pieces of content back to their original sources. The research process resulted in a great degree of “mashing together” viewpoint and stories from a wide variety of sources. If there is question about a certain quote, phrase, paragraph or piece of information, please do not hesitate to contact the authors for clarification and/or specific credit.
1) http://sfpavementtoparks.sfplanning.org/index.htm 2) http://sfgreatstreets.org/ 3) http://www.governing.com/topics/energy-env/gov-parklets-next-big-idea-in-urban-planning.html 4) http://www.pps.org/great-streets-for-san-francisco/ 5) http://www.sfdpw.org/index.aspx?page=88 6) http://www.publicarchitecture.org/blog/index.php/2012/05/catalyzing-innovation-in-street-design/ 7) http://www.sf-planning.org/ftp/BetterStreets/about.htm 8) http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/22/pavement-to-parks/ 9) http://sf.streetsblog.org/ 10) http://www.spur.org/blog/2011-07-12/mapping-parklet-craze-where-see-urban-design-trend-year 11) http://www.perkinswill.com/research/innovation-incubator%3A-san-francisco-parklets.html 12) http://ana-environmentalbehaviorresearchi.blogspot.com/p/parklet-2012.html 13) http://cdmcyclist.com/2012/parklets-economic-impact/ 14) http://staging.sfexaminer.com/local/2011/10/san-francisco-parklets-swap-parking-spots-community-space 15) http://www.sfbike.org/?greatstreets 16) http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/place/article/S-F-parklets-a-little-tour-of-a-major-trend-2430136.php 17) http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/parklet/help-us-build-this-parklet 18) http://www.spur.org/publications/library/article/diy-urbanism 19) http://sfparklets.tumblr.com/ 81
Thank you for reading! We would like to express our sincere gratitude to everyone who helped make this work possible, particularly the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin; Steven Moore, Cisco Gomes and Barbara Brown Wilson, as well as all of our fellow PID students, and all the individuals who gave us their time and allowed us to interview them about Parklets. And a special thanks to John Peterson, Amy Ress, Samantha GivenDennis, Brad Leibin, and the rest of the staff at Public Architecture for sharing their studio space with us for two weeks and providing guidance, encouragement and feedback throughout the process, and feeding us.
Authors Katie Mays and Gilad Meron in front of their favorite parklet (Their favorite mostly because it had a triceritops made of succulents) Please feel free to contact us with questions, comments or just to say Hi! email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
Katie Mays is a graduate student in the MFA Collaborative Design program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. She comes to the Public Interest Design program with an interest in finding the intersection of Design and Social Justice, especially through the built environment. Her past work has included the creation of a magazine about urban blight and an open-source guerrilla street furniture project. Prior to Collaborative Design, Katie has worked as a Jesuit Volunteer at a nonprofit cafe in Portland to serve meals to people experiencing homelessness, in an architecture firm in Chicago, and earned her bachelorâ€™s of fine art in Interior Design from the Illinois Institute of Art - Chicago. Gilad Meron is a graduate student at Cornell University pursuing an M.S. in Human Environment Relations and Environmental Psychology, and he holds a B.S. in Design and Environmental Analysis from Cornell. Through various exhibits, research and collaborative projects Gilad has explored how the design of the built environment can be used as a facilitative tool for social change. For the past year Gilad has led DesignConnect, a multidisciplinary organization that works with nonprofits and municipalities to initiate community revitalization projects. Gilad was recently awarded the 2012 Fellowship for Social and Institutional Change from Cornell, and is currently researching the role of community engagement in architecture, planning, and design curriculum.
Research Report from 2012 Public Interest Design Summer Program's Externship with Public Architecture