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Public Works: The Parklet

No room for a parkette? Try a mini-park.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Photo by Waltarrrr on Flickr.

Photo by Waltarrrr on Flickr.

Last week saw the opening of Los Angeles’ first “parklet” (or mini-park, to use a less cloying term) on a former illegal parking spot in front of a body shop. The tiny $30,000 space features wood flooring, tile mosaic seating, and some greenery to welcome weary pedestrians.

The idea of turning parking into parks (parklets don’t have to be built in former parking spaces, but it’s the most common model) originated with a guerrilla installation in San Francisco in 2005, and has been spreading to cities throughout North America.

Given space constraints, many conventional park-type activities are impractical in parklets (although presumably you could engage in space-appropriate variants, like dog-standing, or handing a Frisbee back and forth), but they’re a welcome addition to otherwise drab streetscapes.

The idea isn’t to promote recreation. Instead, the goal is to reclaim space for pedestrians and idlers and bring vibrancy back to streets that have been dominated by automotive traffic. Building a parklet is a means of creating a sidewalk cafe atmosphere, even—especially—in places where there aren’t any sidewalk cafes.

L.A. is actually a little late to the game. Other cities—including Seattle, Philadelphia, and Vancouver—have already leapt enthusiastically on the parklet bandwagon.

The design can be anything, and whimsey is encouraged. Typically, a mini-park would include somewhere to sit, of course, but beyond that just about anything goes. Vancouver has a parklet with hot-tub style seating (although not a real hot tub, because that would be disgusting) and early adopter San Francisco features an installation built out of an old Citroën truck.

On top of all their other benefits, mini-parks don’t cost a lot to build. Plus, by definition you can squeeze one in just about anywhere.

Toronto, of course, has a wealth of parks and parkettes, but we have yet to embrace the parklet—though we did have a a temporary one on Yonge Street over the summer, as part of the Celebrate Yonge festival. There are several neighbourhoods where tiny parks would be a welcome innovation, especially in former industrial or commercial areas that have been reworked as residential space.

And if San Francisco is any indication, parklets are the salted peanuts of public space: once you’ve had one, you’re gonna want a whole bunch more.

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