Parklets are coming to Seattle. Ten of them by the end of 2014—but what are they?
Take your standard city park. Plants, bike racks, maybe some artwork, places to sit or talk or play a game. Now pack that into a single parking space. Six feet wide, twenty feet long. That’s a parklet. And yes, they’re built in literal parking spaces—maybe even a parking space in your own neighborhood. And we think they’re great.
The first parklet appeared in San Francisco in 2005. It made a splash much bigger than its size would have suggested, and since then, other parklets spread throughout New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and other cities—each one with its own tiny personality. L.A., for instance, installed outdoor gym parklets; San Francisco made mobile parklets. All of them took a private parking space and turned it into a public community gathering space.
Now they’re coming to Seattle.
We think this is a good thing, both for Seattle and for homeowners. Here are our reasons:
1) Communities with personality
These tiny parks add vibrancy to a city street. Plants, benches, art, lights. Plus, parklets are grass-roots projects. Communities initiate them and neighborhoods drive them. Parklets let locals shape their own environment, taking a bland piece of asphalt and saying, “We can do better. We can make this ours.”
2) Walkable neighborhoods
Parklets increase pedestrian traffic. Bicycle traffic, too, according to a study done in Los Angeles. Parklet goers typically stay for 10-30 minutes, which is just enough time to drink a cup of coffee, hold a conversation, play a game—and all in a place where there used to be nothing but a blank parking spot.
3) Local business
Many businesses report higher foot traffic passing through their doors after a parklet moves in. That’s ideal for customer-business relationships, because foot-traffic means local-traffic. Parklets give people a reason to walk to their neighborhood deli or coffee shop instead of driving to the chain restaurant five miles down the road. They encourage people to find small, mom and pop stores–the stores where the owner waves at you and remembers your name when you run into each other on the sidewalk.
Artist’s concept of Belltown’s parklet outside City Hostel
When we first heard about parklets, we had some concerns. Namely, who’s paying for them? Your typical parklet costs $10,000-$15,000.
But Seattle’s parklets? Privately funded. Privately maintained. The city makes sure a parklet doesn’t go where it shouldn’t (too close to driveways, blocking drainage, near a street that’s already short on parking), but all the money comes from private sponsors. Seattle’s Department of Transportation has a list of FAQs that put to rest all our other concerns.
Right now, the Seattle parklet program is a pilot. So help decide the future of these parklets–visit one soon and let us know what you think. Three are already open, and by early summer, you’ll be able to enjoy all ten. Here’s a guide for finding them!