Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

I’ve been seeing a lot of folks get excited about Placemaking but then not a lot of follow up.   This is due, in part, of not really knowing what to do.

I have a suggestion that can be undertaken in just about any community – a parklet.   And I would love to see a REALTOR® Association create one in their community using NAR’s Placemaking Micro-grant.

Parklets are mini-parks created by extending existing sidewalk into a parking spot, yes, actual parking spots.  Parklets are designed to provide a new public place and bring awareness to the amount of public space that is devoted to the automobile rather than to creating vibrant community spaces.  Parklets are intended for people. Parklets offer a place to stop, to sit, and to rest while taking in the activities of the street.

The “grassy slope” at the Molly Moon’s parklet in Wallingford, WA
The “grassy slope” at the Molly Moon’s parklet in Wallingford, WA

Most parklets have a distinctive design that incorporates seating, greenery, and/or bike racks and accommodate unmet demand for public space on thriving neighborhood retail streets or commercial areas.  Other parklets include planters, trees, games, café tables, artwork and more.

Parklets are the newest tool in a kit of low-cost amenities that cities have been using to make urban living more pleasant and to encourage people to linger on the sidewalks. Like bike lanes and farmers' markets, they're cheap and easy to install.

For businesses, it’s a way to beautify their block and help attract more foot traffic. Cities see it as a next-to-nothing investment in innovative new public spaces.

Parklets can also generate community and economic development by attracting more people to retail corridors where they are shopping, people watching or just plain having fun.

In many cases,  business owners pay for the construction and maintenance of the parklets, which vary in cost but average $10,000 to $20,000. Cities may offer design help or a little extra cash.  But, some parklets can be created for less if volunteers help out and materials are donated.

1331 9th Avenue Parklet, San Francisco, CA (Hosted by Arizmendi Bakery)
1331 9th Avenue Parklet, San Francisco, CA (Hosted by Arizmendi Bakery)

Studies of Parklet installation in San Francisco showed parklets have increased pedestrian traffic, benefited small business and provided space for neighbors to get to know one another with very minimal impact.

“It’s exciting to see a growing number of communities rethinking how to use public space. One of the great benefits of parklets is how easily they can be installed or modified with little capital expense to meet community needs” says  Deborah Steinberg, Professional Practice Manager for the American Society of Landscape Architects

Parklets are also referred to as People Spots. Chicago became one of the first U.S. cities to reimagine on-street parking as places to “park” people, instead of cars.  Each People Spot is wheelchair-accessible and outfitted with seating and planters (which provide a barrier to the street). They are maintained and paid for by local businesses, rather than by the City of Chicago.

The Bronzeville (Chicago, IL) People Spot. Photo: CDOT
The Bronzeville (Chicago, IL) People Spot. Photo: CDOT

And people spots are good for business.  The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) conducted a survey at nine people spots across the city.   Business owners overwhelmingly agreed that the Spots promote economic activity: 81 percent said the Spots are better for business, and 80 percent agreed that the People Spot brought more foot traffic and customers to the street.  Some businesses even found that the People Spot contributed to a 10 to 20 percent increase in sales. A whopping 93 percent said the feeling of the street is more positive since the People Spot opened.

Comments included the following:  “It makes people comfortable,” “gives a better sense of community,” “slowed down traffic,” “gives us a better image,” “it’s attractive,” “makes the street look cleaner“ and that “no question it has enhanced the pedestrian experience.” Dane Redaway, manager of the Akira clothing store in Andersonville, finds the Spot outside his store at 5228 N. Clark St. to be “like a town square” that’s better for business because “people sit and stare at the storefront windows.

Take a glimpse at some of Chicago’s People Spots.

Street Seats are the name for parklets in New York City.  The City’s Street Seats program enables seasonal public open spaces, generally including seating and tables, at locations where sidewalk seating is not available. During warm-weather months, when the demand to spend time outdoors increases, Street Seats may temporarily replace a few parking spots in a neighborhood to create an attractive setting for eating, reading, working, meeting a friend, or taking a rest.   Watch a time-lapse video of a day in the life of a Street Seat.

Ecopolis, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
Ecopolis, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

San Francisco’s Parklet Program, part of the larger Pavement to Parks Program, repurposes underutilized street space into neighborhood amenities. By converting one or two parking spots into public space, parklets extend the sidewalk and provide enhancements like seating, landscaping, bike parking, and art. Since the initial parklet’s creation in 2010, San Francisco has installed 38 parklets across the city.

But,  what about taking away one, or two, parking spots.  Will there be an uproar?  The University City District, a nonprofit business-improvement association in Philadelphia, surveyed neighbors to see if anyone objected to sacrificing the two spaces in front of the Green Line Café on 43rd Street for a parklet. None did, said the district's planner, Prema Gupta.  And accordingly,  the University City District installed two more parklets.

While some businesses cherish parking spaces for use by their patrons, parklet advocates say turning some spaces into gathering places creates popular hangouts for nearby workers and residents and boosts business.

3876 Noriega Street Parklet (Hosted by Devil's Teeth Baking Company)
3876 Noriega Street Parklet (Hosted by Devil's Teeth Baking Company)

But just in case…you may want to think about a temporary parklet.  Because they’re so simple and inexpensive, cities can easily experiment with what works and what doesn’t, says David Alumbaugh, the director of the city design group in the San Francisco Planning Department. “The beauty of parklets is that they’re very transformative yet not very difficult.” “It’s a chance for us to say, ‘Let’s just try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll take it out.”

And, in San Diego, they are experimenting with movable parks popping up every two weeks in downtown.  A group of New School of Architecture and Design graduates won the Downtown San Diego Partnership's contest to design a prototype parklet that could be moved from block to block.  The experiment could enable other neighborhoods to campaign for their own parklets.

PARK(ing) Day is an annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places.  Its goal is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat.

So, are now thinking about where a parklet could go in your community?  Start planning your parklet today so you can be relaxing in it tomorrow.

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Community Outreach Programs

Housing Opportunity Grant
Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing
opportunities.

Smart Growth Grant
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Diversity
Planned diversity initiatives makes good business sense. REALTOR® Associations with well-planned diversity programs create a stronger sense of community, particularly in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreign-born and minority residents who are moving up the socioeconomic ladder and are buying homes.

NAR Placemaking Resources

Placemaking Guide: A Guide to Transform a Public Space into a Community Place
REALTORS® and state and local association staff can learn the details of Placemaking, the kinds of projects placemaking entails, how to organize them, and where to go for assistance and resources.

Placemaking Webinar Series
Our Placemaking Webinar Series will provide more in depth information on the various types of Placemaking and how REALTORS® were involved in Placemaking activities in their communities.

Placemaking Grant
The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces, like pocket parks, trails & gardens, in a community. The grant focuses on “lighter, cheaper, quicker” placemaking projects, which can be built under a year and cost less  than $200,000.

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Placemaking

Placemaking is a way to make your community a better place to live and work by transforming public spaces into vibrant community places.