Parklets are temporary public spaces created in parking spots as an extension of the sidewalk. They can serve as outdoor seating for restaurants, offer shade and benches for passersby or even be used as bicycle parking areas. Strong Towns member Paul Fritz worked with a group of residents in his hometown of Sebastopol, CA to construct three temporary parklets at the end of April. They used plywood for the floor and OSB walls to create semi-enclosed spaces which were then filled with seating and artwork.
Paul wrote on his blog, Small Town Urbanism:
The 3 parklets were customized by the adjacent businesses [...] People were really interested in what we were doing and most feedback was favorable. There is a severe lack of pedestrian space on Main Street, and the parklets offered the opportunity to relax and have a conversation, or catch up on some reading, out of the flow of pedestrian traffic along the sidewalk.
Being a small town, you invariably run into someone you know while walking downtown. When you stop to chat you end up blocking the sidewalk. A parklet gives you an opportunity to step aside and carry on your conversation without blocking the flow. And the walls of the parklet gave a surprising amount of separation from the adjacent traffic lanes. They really had a cozy feeling to them.
The use of flexible materials to create the parklets means that it can easily be erected or taken down, depending on where it gets the most use and what the needs of the town are. The photos below from Paul Fritz show the process of putting up one of the parklets.
Flexible materials inside the parklets were also are asset. For instance, when the parklet organizers realized how sunny the day had become, they repositioned umbrellas around the parklets for maximum shade, which invited many more visitors. (We know how important shade can be in warmer climates.) Lightweight chairs were also easy for residents to move and reconfigure if they needed seating for a larger or smaller group.
A surprise birthday party even occurred in one of the spaces. Paul writes, "My wife and several friends brought down a cake for my birthday, to my surprise, that resulted in sharing birthday cake with passersby."
The pop-up parklet event was a resounding success for Sebastopol and even though it only lasted for one day, Paul writes, "several businesses expressed interest in creating permanent parklets." He concludes, "The event showed that people will use more space when we give them more space." While these parking spots might have served as storage for a handful of cars on a typical day, the parklet project saw dozens of people enjoying the spaces, interacting with one another and frequenting local businesses.
We hope this event is inspiration for other towns to consider their own prioritization of space and maybe try out a parklet demonstration for themselves.