Parklets: A Small Way to Make Big Cities More Livable

Parklets, mini urban parks, are a small way to make big cities more livable for all residents.

Parklets, mini urban parks, are a small way to make big cities more livable for all residents. Image Sergiy Palamarchuk, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Parklets, mini urban parks, are a small way to make big cities more livable for all residents.

Have you ever walked down a bustling city street and stumbled upon a miniature yet soothing oasis of greenery, seating, and calm amidst the concrete jungle? If so, you’ve probably encountered a parklet. Parklets are small extensions of the sidewalk that provide more space and amenities for people using the street, usually installed on parking lanes and typically the size of several parking spaces.

Parklets can be as small as a single parking space. A nine-foot by 18-foot standard American parking spot can be transformed to provide big benefits for a city’s people, creatures and biodiversity.

Green and Accessable

Parklets provide additional space for pedestrians and cyclists, making streets more inviting and accessible for people walking, biking, or using wheelchairs. Because of the added space to step aside, they help to reduce traffic congestion. By incentivizing people to leave their cars at home and walk or bike to their destinations, they can free up space on the streets for other vehicles, such as buses and taxis.

Parklets can provide a space for people to gather and relax, which can help to build community and social cohesion. They can also be used for small events or as a place to sit and meet neighbors, further enhancing the sense of community.

The plants contained in these mini urban parks filter the air; they absorb pollutants from the air through their leaves and stems. Some pollutants that plants can filter include volatile organic compounds that cause headaches, nausea, and respiratory problems. Plants, of course, absorb and sequester greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen dioxide is a gas that is known to contribute to respiratory problems in children, such as asthma and bronchitis.

Better, Vibrant Communities

Green spaces also help reduce the heat island effect of urban areas. Many urban areas around the world are primarily covered in concrete, asphalt, or black tar roofs. In the era of global heating, lowering the temperature of a city can make the difference between life and death for some vulnerable residents. 

Studies have shown that parklets can increase property values in the surrounding area. This is because these mini-urban parks make neighborhoods more attractive and desirable, which can lead to higher rents and property sales. They can also provide economic benefits to businesses and property owners. 

For businesses, parklets can be a boon. Enhancing the streetscape can increase foot traffic and make areas more appealing. Many businesses, especially cafes, and restaurants, find them valuable extensions of their premises where people can gather to sit and relax in a calm environment. 

A Grassroots History

Parklets began as a grassroots movement, sprouting from the desire to reclaim urban spaces and make them more pedestrian-friendly. In 2005, a group of designers in San Francisco called Rebar created a temporary mini urban park on a parking space outside their office. The parklet was made of wood and had seating, tables, and planters. It was a huge success, and it inspired other cities to create their own parklets.

In the mid-2000s, parklets began to blossom into an essential part of urban planning. Cities started to pass ordinances that allowed businesses and property owners to install parklets on their parking spaces. This made it easier for people to create parklets, and it led to a boom in the parklet movement.

Permanent parklets: Permanent parklets are year-round installations that create lasting community spaces. They are typically made of durable materials, such as wood or concrete, and they can be equipped with a variety of amenities, such as seating, tables, planters, and bicycle racks. Permanent parklets can be a great way to add vibrancy and character to a neighborhood and provide a much-needed space for people to gather and relax. 

Temporary mini urban parks: Temporary mini urban parks are installed for specific events or seasons and offer flexibility. They are typically made of lightweight materials, such as wood or fabric, and they can be easily disassembled and stored when not in use. Temporary parklets can be a great way to add vibrancy and character to a neighborhood for a special event, or they can be used to provide additional seating and amenities during the warmer months. 

Pop-up parklets: Pop-up parklets are typically put up for a day or even a few hours, and they provide a taste of what permanent parklets can offer. They are often made of temporary materials, such as cardboard or fabric, and they can be easily disassembled and stored when not used. Pop-up mini urban parks can be a great way to test the feasibility of a permanent installation, or they can be used to promote a specific event or cause.

DIY parklets: DIY parklets are a great way to add vibrancy and character to a neighborhood and provide a much-needed space for people to gather and relax. They are often made of recycled materials, which makes them a sustainable way to improve the urban environment. Some citizens go so far as to include vegetable plants in their gardens, which can be used to introduce the next generation to plants, gardening, and healthy, whole food.

Creating these mini urban parks isn’t without its challenges. Government-sanctioned parklets often require funding, and getting permission from local governments can be time-consuming. 

Balancing the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers is another complex aspect. While city residents generally love them, some vocal people who commute into the city from the suburbs do not support anything that might reduce the amount of street parking available. 

Despite these challenges, cities worldwide are considering ways to make their cities more pedestrian friendly and walkable. These mini urban parks are an easy way to encourage people to walk instead of drive and get to know their neighbors.

See also: From Concrete to Green Space: Students Redesign Green Schoolyards.

Take Action to Get Yours

If you want mini urban parks in your community, don’t wait for the authorities to make a move. You can get involved in your community and advocate for parklets. Whether speaking at city council meetings or partnering with local businesses, your voice can make a difference. If brave and willing to stand up to civic bureaucrats, you can build a DIY park in a resident’s free parking space. Read up on any specific restrictions and get the community involved. Most civic leaders would love a way to connect with their constituents, and inviting local council members to view your work might make a huge difference. 

The location of your mini urban park is important. You want to choose a location that is well-trafficked, and that will be used by people. Your park will be exposed to the elements, so you want to use durable materials that will withstand the weather. Your park should be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. There are no rules. Be creative and have fun with your design!

Feel inspired to bring parklets to your community? Your advocacy can transform your city streets into lively, community-driven spaces. Check out resources like San Francisco’s Parklet Manual or Portland’s Parklet Program for guidance.

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