Actualité 05.11.2011

Architectural Record – "Life in the Slow Lane"

Life in the Slow Lane
October 28, 2011

Mini-parks built atop parking spaces are cropping up throughout San Francisco. The trend is spreading to other cities, as well.
By William Bostwick

It’s the ultimate revenge on the modern city: one less parking space, one more park. A century and a half after San Francisco city planner Jasper O’Farrell was driven out of town by a lynch mob for taking farmers’ land to widen Market Street, parklets are reversing his folly, expanding the sidewalk into the flow of traffic, reclaiming street for feet.

Nearly two dozen of these miniparks, designed by a coterie of local architects, have appeared in neighborhoods across the city, from Outer Sunset to the Financial District. Built atop parking spaces in front of cafés, galleries, and shops, these slivers of refuge often contain planters, bike racks, and tables at which passersby can enjoy their locally roasted macchiatos. Technically temporary, they’re designed to slip through city bureaucracy. Permits last one year, at which point the parklet is reevaluated at a public hearing. “It’s representative of a new kind of city planning: full-scale prototypes and iterative, changeable design,” says Matthew Passmore of the firm Rebar, which has designed and built three parklets so far.

Seemingly overnight, parklets sprout: driftwood benches outside Trouble Coffee, undulating bamboo planks fronting Revolution Café, a scrap-wood playground before the Fabric8 art gallery. Now emerging in places like Vancouver, Philadelphia, and Chicago, parklets are a San Francisco phenomenon, thronged with sunbathers on fog-free days but defamed by drivers in a city where fickle public transit and complex parking rules make the rare spot as good as gold.

The city’s parklet movement took root several years ago. In late 2008, inspired by Gansevoort Plaza—a pop-up seating area in a bustling intersection in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District—San Francisco launched an experiment on a congested corner in the Castro: It built a pocket park. Concrete barriers, a few tables, and a row of potted trees went up; locals gathered for lunch and people watching; bureaucrats blanched. “The notion of its being exploratory, doing something temporary, was so foreign to career bureaucrats,” said Andres Power, project manager of the city’s Pavement to Parks program, established in 2009. “They said it’s too dangerous—you have streetcars, multiple grids coming together. Our response was, it’s the best place to figure out if it can work, and make changes if it doesn’t.””

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(Source: Architectural Record)