What is a “parklet”? If you don’t know the answer, you’re not alone: The concept is relatively new, but the idea is to transform an underutilized public space, such as a parking spot, into a “pocket park” with plants, shade and seating. A Tucson nonprofit organization, Living Streets Alliance, is working to bring a parklet to the city’s downtown. We spoke with LSA’s executive director, Emily Yetman, about the project.
Q: What is a “parklet”? Where did this idea originate?
A: A parklet is essentially a super-tiny “pocket park” created by transforming an on-street parking space into a semi-temporary public green space. Parklets usually include enhancements such as planters, seating, shade and other elements that make them a great public space for gathering or just relaxing and enjoying street life.
Parklets originated in San Francisco, which now has dozens of them throughout the city through the “Pavement to Parks” program. It’s a trend that’s catching on throughout the nation in cities like Portland, New York and even Los Angeles.
Q: How does adding a parklet benefit area businesses and residents?
A: Lots of times, roadways are much bigger in scale than they need to be, while amenities that make them comfortable for walking or shopping are scarce — things like shade trees, benches, planters, kiosks, lighting and greenery. (This is especially true in many sprawling cities here in the Southwest.) At the same time, local businesses and neighborhoods lack good public space that helps create a sense of “place” and gives people opportunities to interact and enjoy the area. Parklets solve both of these problems by reactivating underutilized street space and giving it back to people. And, as if that’s not reason enough, a number of recent parklet studies have shown that revenues and foot traffic increased for nearby businesses after parklets were installed.
Q: What makes this parklet location in Tucson so appealing?
A: Tucson is at a really exciting transition point where, for the first time in decades, little business districts are starting to pop up in different parts of town, each with their own local flavor. Most of these are driven by small, locally owned businesses banding together, and that is definitely the case in the “Sixth and Sixth” area, where we’re proposing the first parklet. There’s been a tradition of arts and crafts in that area for years, and with the recent arrival of Exo Roast Co., a local roaster and café, and Tap & Bottle, a new neighborhood bar, it’s finally possible to spend an entire afternoon in the area exploring, hanging out and enjoying a variety of shops and businesses. To date, the one major challenge has been that the streets connecting these businesses are still pretty car-dominated, and even the sidewalk space is relatively uninviting. There’s virtually no shade and nowhere to sit in between shopping and dining experiences.
The businesses in the area have identified a parklet as a great way to begin to transform their neighborhood into a vibrant destination, since it doesn’t require any major infrastructure changes, is relatively affordable and will create a great focal point for their district. Right now, we’re looking to get artists, designers and craftsmen in the area involved in the designing of the parklet so that it will reflect as much of the character of the district as possible.
Q: Where can people learn more about the project, and how can they help?
A: We’re hoping to have the parklet completed by this fall, and we’ll continue to have status updates on our website, www.livingstreetsalliance.org. Since this will be a public space for everyone, we’re fundraising to cover the costs of building the parklet and will gladly accept tax-deductible donations on our website or via mail to Living Streets Alliance, P.O. Box 2641, Tucson, AZ 85702.
We hope to see parklets spring up all over the city. They’re a win-win-win: Tucsonans get quality public space, it attracts more business to the area, and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a thing. What’s not to love?