In San Francisco, Tiny Parks Pack In Big Benefits

Portland, Ore., may be able to lay claim to the world’s smallest park, but San Francisco is the city that has truly pioneered the micro-park, or “parklet” movement.  Spearheaded by the City Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks Program, 23 such parklets have been built in the city since March 2010, and that number continues to grow.

Hosted by local businesses, these parklets typically consist of a small public sidewalk extension, usually taking up the space formerly allotted to one or two parking spaces. A platform is built out into the area of the street formerly allotted to the cars, essentially extending the grade of the sidewalk out into the parking lane. A parklet might have seating, trees, flowers, shrubs, umbrellas, bike parking, art or lighting.

parklet1

image via San Francisco Great Streets

Partnering with local businesses has proven a winning strategy, for a number of reasons. Not only is the business directly across from the parklet most likely to be affected by the closure of a parking space or two  – thereby putting the question of parking vs. parklet in the hands of the business owner — the strategy allows for the parklet to complement the business, providing sidewalk seating for a restaurant, for example, or bike parking for a bike shop. These park lets, though, remain public spaces — meaning that while customers of the hosting business are welcome to use the space, so is everyone else.

Lest you think that tiny footprint is too small to make a real difference in the quality of urban life, you should know that San Francisco’s Great Streets Project conducted a study of the the first trial parklet (on Divisadero Street between Hayes and Grove Streets, in front of Cafe Mojo) and found that the trial
 parklet
 increased
 pedestrian
 activity
 in
 the
 study
 area,
 as well as the
 satisfaction
 of
 pedestrians
 in
 the
 area
 and
 people’s
 general sense
 of
 community
 character.

Judah Street parklet

image via San Francisco Great Streets

During the trial period, the study found that weekday
 evening pedestrian
 traffic
 rose
 37 percent with the addition of the parklet, and 13 percent overall. The
 average
 number
 of
 people
 sitting
 or
 standing
 increased
 30 percent,
 and
 the
 average
 number
 of
 weekday
 visitors
 in
 that particular
 area almost
 doubled
. (If you’re interested, you can check out all the specs on the Great Streets Project’s blog post, or download the Divisadero Parklet Report [PDF] in its entirety.)

Despite the boon that increase in foot traffic posed to surrounding businesses, business owners in the area were evenly split on whether that trial parklet should become a permanent feature of the neighborhood. But the popularity of the concept, as evidenced by the number of businesses that have since submitted requests to the city to host a parklet indicate that the benefits have outweighed the loss of a parking over the long term.

So far, the city’s Planning Department has issued three Request for Proposals (RFP) for parklets and received over 70 applications from businesses, neighborhood groups, and organizations. If you or someone you know are interested in learning more about the application process, more information is available at San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program website; permitting updates are available on the Department of Public Works website.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.