(Note: This article was written for the CityBeat newsletter by our Spring policy intern, Chris Rule, who is in his second year of a Master’s program at the Evans School of Public Affairs)
Visitors to 15th Ave E on Capitol Hill this Monday (4/23) got a special surprise to go with 75 degree weather. On 15th Video and Environmental Works teamed up with landscape architects and the Parfait food truck to make a parklet outside the former fire station that houses their businesses. This was an ideal place to sit on an ideal day to eat ice cream.
Parklets, also called pop-up parks, are cheap and easy ways to add greenery, public seating and other features in neighborhoods where we have a lot of people and a shortage of places to be outside. You may have seen dozens of temporary parklets in September on PARKing Day.
More than a quarter of our land in Seattle is in the public right of way, but most of it is not available for us to linger. Businesses that would like outdoor seating face a web of regulations, and sidewalks are often too narrow to accommodate seating, tables and people passing by. While residents and merchants need space for parking, many also would like street features that attract more pedestrians to the area.
Activating our streets has numerous benefits besides making them more attractive. People who stroll through the neighborhood spend more money visiting local businesses. More eyes on the street help prevent street crime, and promoting walking combats our current epidemic of obesity. Our city departments have been easing the rules over the past few years so that we can use more of our scarce land for all the things we want to see in our city. These include urban agriculture in our planting strips and green stormwater infrastructure that prevents our aging sewers from overflowing. The Seattle Department of Transportation has already streamlined the process for sidewalk cafes and adapted the rules that govern construction sites for sidewalk cafes and food trucks.
Now SDOT is taking up parklets. San Francisco and several other cities have policies and processes that we might look to as we decide where it is fair and appropriate to create a parklet. These allow community groups or businesses to apply for about two parking spaces – with clear rules and a public process for comments for and against. With some effort and attention, we should be able to have a pilot program in Seattle by this summer. Imagine if there were more places to spend time outdoors, even if only for the summer. Parklets seem to me like a cost-effective and attractive solution.
Would you like to see more outdoor amenities where you live, work, shop or play? Fill out this short survey to share your ideas for how we can activate our public space.
Here are some additional pictures of parklets taken by legislative aide, Esther Handy, on a recent visit to San Francisco.