There’s a new type of space coming to Seattle – it’s tiny, but packed within its small stature are all kinds of good qualities. Residents are reclaiming the public right-of-way (i.e. roadway), traditionally taken-up by parked cars, for open and green space. It’s called a parklet and like the name suggests, the easiest way to describe them is as “mini open space.” And yet that term just doesn’t quite capture the breadth and beauty of these little spaces because they’re so much more than a plaza or patch of green space.
Usually taking-up about the same amount of space as one or two on-street parking spots, parklets are being introduced to the Seattle area through the Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) new pilot program for open space. Birthed out of San Francisco’s PARK(ing) Day and later formalized within the city’s Pavement to Parks program, parklets have already been envisioned by residents of other cities as many things: ping-pong courts, outdoor café seating, lush green space, and even exercise space. From a social standpoint, there’s something refreshing about citizens reclaiming space near the sidewalk so they can spend time together as neighbors, for kids to play, or for our elders to people-watch – all the while bringing activity and life to an otherwise unused space. As our city’s public spaces become more and more critical, parklets are one way of satisfying our urban dwellers’ need for life’s familial and casual in-between moments. And without requiring months of arduous city process, obscene amounts of city funding, or painful construction delays, parklets also allow us to use our own hands to nimbly shape the public expression of our neighborhoods and business centers.
So if you had one wish to make a new nearby parklet the next best thing, what would you wish for?
You might wish for some green space like at San Francisco’s 914 Valencia Street Parklet or some cozy seating in front of your favorite café like at the 3876 Noriega Street Parklet, but for the parklet team and neighbors of a parklet in Seattle’s Central Area, they think their community could use a family-friendly space. Adjacent to Cortona Café & Swing Salon and aptly named the 25th & Union Parklet, this parklet is being designed as a place where kids can play safely while parents take a moment for conversation. Considered by many to be the hub of the Central Area, this particular part of the neighborhood has retained and attracted a number of small local businesses within its walkable core and yet does not have much in the way of conveniently located family-friendly recreation space. And lets face it, in a city which already struggles with the ‘Seattle freeze’, parents and singles alike need all the help they can get to find affordable, safe, and convenient spaces to be neighborly. These new little interventions are one convenient way that we can thaw-out our introverted ways. But even more than that, parklets present opportunities for neighbors being neighbors and to see community in action.
But if community-building and civicness isn’t convincing enough, we can’t ignore the benefits that parklets bring to local businesses. While Union Street, a major east-west connector through the Central Area, is more pedestrian in character than many other streets within the neighborhood and city, the local businesses along it need the support that only comes from the bustle of frequent and loyal customers. In San Francisco, initial polls of nearby businesses have shown a marked increase in annual revenue, sometimes as great as 20%. And according to the Parklet Impact Study conducted by the San Francisco Great Streets Project, we can expect to see more people stopping to engage in stationary activities. To put it another way, by making social activities more visible to the casual passer-by, our human desire to participate kicks-in and the businesses within the vicinity benefit from that attention.
If you want to learn more about Seattle’s pilot program or get involved in one of the 13 parklets already being planned, consider checking out SDOT’s project website. And remember, these little parklets are being funded completely by our communities, businesses, and neighborhood organizations so if you’re short on time but still want to support the mission of these little gems, you can always help by donating! If you’d like to contribute to the 25th & Union Parklet, you can do so at this parklet’s online Crowdrise campaign.