Newsom Christens New Mojo Cafe “Parklet,” Pledges More to Come

Ross_ed_mayor.jpgDPW Director Ed Reiskin, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, and Mayor Gavin Newsom standing in what used to be two parking spaces. Photos: Matthew Roth
With scores of people crowding the sidewalk and taking up one lane of traffic on Divisadero in front of Mojo Bicycle Cafe, Mayor Gavin Newsom, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and city department heads heralded a new "parklet" sidewalk extension as a piece of a growing trend of re-purposing street space for people instead of cars. The new trial parklet was built into the space formerly occupied by two parked vehicles, providing several hundred square feet of public space and benches, tables, planters and bike racks.

"This is a change in philosophy and how we think of the public rights-of-way," said Department of Public Works Director Ed Reiskin, who noted that approximately 25 percent of the public space in San Francisco is taken up by streets.

"There's an extraordinary amount of the public realm that is not park space, that's actually in the public rights-of-way, that's actually the streets," said Reiskin. "Unfortunately most of it is covered with concrete and asphalt and it was designed for cars and not for people."

The Mojo Cafe parklet is the first of several forthcoming parklets, which are technically part of the Pavement to Parks initiative spearheaded by Mayor Newsom. Though the projects are pilots, they have proven very successful and have quieted some of the early critics in neighborhoods where they've been implemented.

Newsom prefaced his remarks by assuring those critical of the parklet that Divisadero and the North of Panhandle neighborhood had not in fact lost any parking because an old bus stop that was removed nearby is now parking for two cars.

"This is all about taking the narrative of the 25 percent of our land mass that [is] streets, and begin to take a little bit of that back and open that up for the community and create a framework where there is a stronger community connection, a stronger sense of place and a better community environment as well," said Newsom.

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District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said that the parklet and the greater reconstruction of the Divisadero Street corridor were finally realizing a pledge he made when he became a supervisor: "When I came into office in 2005, I declared that Divisadero would be one of our comeback corridors."

"This parklet right here, this 44 feet, is really the first template that is going to have a citywide impact," said Mirkarimi. "It's an exciting 44 feet."

Reiskin thanked a host of advocates for their hard work, such as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) and the San Francisco Great Streets Project, as well as city, regional, and federal agencies for their fiscal sponsorship of both the larger Divisadero project and the parklet, including the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. 

A special acknowledgment went to Riyad Ghannam, principal of RG Architecture, who donated his design services to create the parklet. Ghannam, who thanked the many volunteers from the Great Streets Project and SFBC, said parklets were both community amenities and challenges to the design community to get involved in innovative projects.

"I want to congratulate the city on taking a chance on something like this," said Ghannam, who explained that they had turned "two anonymous parking spaces" into a destination. Previously, said Ghannam, you couldn't have said to a friend, "meet me at these parking spaces."

Representing the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association, Leela Gill praised the Divisadero reconstruction project for helping to bring the Alamo Square neighborhood closer to the North of Panhandle neighborhood, and with inspiring the creation of the Divisadero Merchants Association. Gill said the rapid turnaround of the street and the commercial corridor had improved safety.

"Twenty years ago, you wouldn't catch me walking down Divisadero, and now I would bring both of my children anytime, any day, down Divisadero," said Gill.

DPW's Reiskin, who noted that his daughter goes to school two blocks from the Mojo parklet, said he walks, rides his bike and takes the 24 down Divisadero almost daily, so the improvements had personal significance.

"This is part of a trend, this is not a one-off episode," Reiskin assured the crowd. "We really do see it as emblematic of a lot more to come."

 Future Pavement to Parks Plazas and Parklets

In order to keep the momentum going, Andres Power, Pavement to Parks project manager for the Planning Department, said they hope to have the next parklet at 22nd and Bartlett in the Mission built in early April.

"My goal is to get a project on the ground every three to four weeks," said Power, a schedule necessary to meet the Mayor's pledge to create twelve plazas and parklets in 2010.

Following the installation of the Mission parklet, planners will turn to the Inner Richmond, where they will install a parklet in front of Toy Boat Cafe on Clement Street, near 4th Avenue. Power said the Planning Department had just selected a pro-bono designer for the project, which could be in the ground by early to mid-May.

Unlike the initial Pavement to Parks Plaza at Castro and Market Street, where the novelty of the project left other city departments skeptical, Power said there was no resistance whatsoever to the new projects, in part because of the positive publicity they have engendered.

"At the end of the day, in the scheme of things, they are cheap. You get a lot of bang for the buck," said Power, who noted that the Mayor's presence at recent press events raised the profile of the work.

Following the Clement Street Parklet, the city will move forward with a temporary plaza in the Excelsior, on Naples Street between Rolph Street and Geneva Avenue. The project, championed by Supervisor John Avalos, will likely resemble the street and park conditions at Hayes Green, where local traffic will pass on either side of the temporary plaza.

By this summer, Power and other project managers hope to move on two more parklets on Columbus Avenue, possibly in front of Caffe Roma and Caffe Greco as well as another plaza in Noe Valley on Noe Street near 24th Street, though Power said that still depends on community negotiations.

Funding for the plazas is coming from a combination of private donations and a large pot of economic development money assembled by the Mayor's Office of Workforce and Economic Development (MOEWD). According to Power, each plaza cost approximately $30,000 to construct and each parklet is less than $15,000.

"$30,000 is leveraging a bunch of resources," he said "Because we're able to leverage the good business savvy of local businesses and local project developers, we get these at much lower prices than say, New York City."

Power was quite proud to note that, rather than following the livable streets lead of cities like New York and Portland, Oregon, planners in those cities were consulting him.

"We've gotten calls from New York City, Portland, Boston, Seattle, and Washington DC inquiring about how we are making these happen."

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planters.jpgThe view of the parklet from the street, showing painted black planter boxes, shrubbery and bike parking.

mayor_and_crowd.jpgMayor Newsom enjoying the new seating.