Written by Evan Goldin, CEO, Parkade
In 2017, NAR covered the then-blossoming “parklet” movement, which was creating tiny parks (hence, “parklet”) in street parking spaces around the world.
The idea behind parklets is to create a spot that allows people to stop, sit, and rest while purposing former car-parking spaces for a community gathering place.
Ten years ago, using street space for a parklet was very, very difficult and illegal in most cities. However, these types of spaces have been popping up almost everywhere lately after COVID-19 forced cafes, bars, restaurants, and other businesses to close their indoor spaces.
Parklet vs. Streetery
Traditional parklets have generally consisted of permanent installations made of concrete, metal, or other permanent materials. Made to stand the test of time, they were also quite expensive — often costing tens of thousands of dollars.
With COVID quickly pushing businesses into using outdoor space, these new, more temporary spaces that have popped up aren’t quite the “parklets” of yore. Named “streeteries” to differentiate from the more permanent parklets, these more temporary spaces are cheaper, faster to install and often involve far less permitting. After all, many businesses are facing a dire crisis with COVID crippling sales, so cities and businesses have acted quickly to enable and create streeteries.
The installations usually consist of wood, planters or other relatively inexpensive materials. While some businesses have spent multiple thousands of dollars, streeteries can be built for as little as $1,000.
Streeteries, despite the name, also aren’t just for dining — though restaurants have been the main source of streeteries. Gyms, clothing stores, bookstores and businesses of all stripes have been creating streeteries.
They’ve exploded so quickly that San Francisco, the home of the original parklet movement, went from 60 permanent parklet installations by 2019 to more than 930 streeteries by August 2020. And San Francisco isn’t alone, as cities from New York to Sumner, WA to Culpeper, VA have legalized and encouraged these creative reuses of street parking.
Parklets and Streeteries Design Options
Streeteries feature a distinctive design that usually includes seating, bike racks, and lots of greenery. Some even add cafe tables, trees, planters, games, artwork, and much more.
There are so many ways to design a streetery. For example, you can make the design simple and enclose the space using barricades, or you can go for planters, plywood, and fences. Businesses that have an entire off-street parking lot at their disposal can completely close the lot for more outdoor space.
Streetery design options are truly limitless. Parkade’s parklet and streetery design guide has some great inspiration.
Streeteries Are More Than Just Good Business
Amanda Burden, former City Commissioner of New York, pointed out our need for more urban greenery in her TED Talk. Burden explains that we need to "feel greenery at the ground plain, so you feel in a healthy environment."
Besides, people feel that parklets also build a sense of community as they gather and take care of spaces that used to be empty in the past or held just another parked car.
"If you create a public space that people want to be in, you can actually change the value of that space," says Burden, encouraging city planners to think of cities not as collections of buildings and skyscrapers, but as the people within.
Hopefully, a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a rethinking of how we use our precious public space.
Streeteries Are a Flexible, Adaptable, and Collaborative Idea
The beauty of streeteries lies in the fact that they are flexible; they can be permanent, semi-permanent, or seasonal. They can work in spaces of any shape and size. In addition, they can feature moveable furniture and planters that can be easily removed or replaced. It is precisely this adaptability of parklets that makes them so popular.
In addition, streeteries are usually a result of real collaboration. After seeing this idea gain steam, small business owners, community groups, and even individuals have pitched in to design, create, and maintain these spaces in their communities.
The Future of Streeteries
Streeteries may seem like a great idea while night-time temperatures are warm in most of the United States, but what is going to happen to these structures in the fall and winter. And what happens when fewer people dine outside — will cities and businesses rethink the highest and best use of the outdoor space outside their stores?
We’ll have to wait to see, but it seems likely that streeteries may inspire a permanent shift in thinking about what is the best use of America’s public space in our downtowns.
Before COVID-19, streeteries were illegal in most cities and this public space concept still remains prohibited across the country. Rules have changed swiftly, and COVID’s streetery movement may inspire more permanent rule changes around the country around what parking space can be used for.
One thing’s for sure — we’ve only seen the beginning of this movement.