A Big Idea for Pint-Sized Urban Green Spaces
By Teresa Woodard
Two Midwestern cities — Chicago and Columbus — are converting public parking spaces into postage-stamp-sized parks called “parklets.” And, thankfully, they’re outfitting them with plants and seating areas.
According to Governing Magazine, the parklet idea started in 2005 in San Francisco when a design company descended on a downtown parking space, fed the meter and created a p0p-up park complete with sod, public benches and leafy trees. They called it Park(ing) Day, which eventually became an annual event.
Late in 2009, New York City adopted the idea of pint-sized parks as it converted street spaces into pedestrian-only plazas. San Francisco opened its first permanent parklet in March 2010 and has since completed 27 parklets and has plans for another 40.
In Chicago, the parklets are called “People Spots.” The first opened in 2012 in Andersonville, and five more followed as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Make Way for People program to turn streets, alleys and vacant city-owned parcels into vibrant urban hubs.
In Columbus, a non-profit group PlaceMakes has opened four microparks, including three temporary parklets and its latest West Cherry Street project. Here, two underused city blocks have been temporarily closed and turned into a dynamic public space. Community residents painted the street bright blue with big red and small yellow polka dots. They further enhanced the space with picnic tables, planters and a community mural – all funded by grants, business donations and volunteers. They’ve also organized a “Cherry Sunday” series including events from poetry readings to vertical gardening workshops.
A few blocks away, the latest Columbus parklet stands in a parking space in front of a cafe and just got approval from the city to remain two months longer than planned – until September – because it’s been so successful. The parklet features a wooden structure with seating, planters and two semi-transparent lithographs of Columbus buildings by local artist Leah Storrs. The parklet is also equipped with solar panels that power the letters “A,R,T” on a sign mounted on the street side that reads “PARKT.”
Check out these websites to find a parklet or build one near you.