I remember when I first arrived to my Wallingford neighborhood and walked around, that every way I turned people had put in raised gardens filled with flowers and veggies in the space between the sidewalk and the road. I thought it was GENIUS! That space, often called an easement (which is usually owned by the city) always seemed like a waste of space if left empty. Apparently Seattle also agreed and allowed the space to work for its citizens and gave me wonderful things to admire while I took my evening strolls.
Well, Seattle has done it again in the form of a parklet. Supposedly originating in San Francisco (I swear Europe has been doing this for centuries, but I digress), the first parklet (or a streatery in some circles) was established in 2005 and was open for 2 hours as an installtion. Since then more long-term parklets have popped up around the city. The official seattle.gov definition of a parklet is “the process of converting a parking space [or two] into a small public ‘park.’ Parklets are, in effect, an extension of the sidewalk into the street, exchanging private auto space for additional public gathering space.” To be clear too, the idea is that these parkelts are truly public spaces and not just extensions of restaurants or cafes. A parklet for everyone!
The first parklet I saw was last year, just down the block from my apartment in Wallingford in front of Molly Moon’s Ice Cream. The overflow from that store on any non-freezing day is crazy! People are usually spilling out into the street, taking up parking spots anyways, just milling around consuming yummy goodness. So why not give the people what they want? The parklet felt like it appeared overnight, but obviously had been planned and well thought out. It offers up seating for two-legged and four-legged alike, lush plants, and an overall vibe of invitation to sit and chat for a while.
The most recent parklet I literally stumbled upon is on The Ave and 42nd Street in the University District. If you’ve spent anytime on The Ave you know that it is not typically a place that you just hang out. Usually it is very stressed out students that are running to get food in to-go containers and then briskly walking back onto campus which is a mere block away. But the parklet is sending a different message now: It says, “Stop in, slow down, and sit for a while.” Admittedly, “hearing” that message when standing in a torrential downpour of rain doesn’t seem all that appealing, but once spring arrives, you can bet that parklet will have a waiting line around the block!
Not seeing a parklet that is to your liking? Wish you had a swing or possibly even a sandbox? Not a problem! The Seattle Department of Transportation really wants to support citizens of Seattle to start building these parklets. They have made an extensive, but very accessible step-by-step guide to help you through all the stages (brainstorming, planning, construction, etc.) of getting a parklet in your neighborhood! See the full PDF here. So gather your creative peeps, download the guide, and get to brainstorming!
Not from Seattle, but still interested in getting a parklet in your neighborhood? You would be surprised how many cities across the United States already are dedicated to the idea of parklets. Google “Parklet Guidelines, [your city name here]” and you should find at least initial information to get your project rolling. Good luck!