San Francisco’s Newest Public Space is in the Parking Lane in The Mission

22nd_Parklet3.jpgInstallation began yesterday on the 22nd Street and Bartlett "parklet." Photos: Matthew Roth.

After the tremendous success of the trial sidewalk extension, or "parklet," on Divisadero in front of the Mojo Bicycle Cafe, San Francisco planners set their eyes on 22nd Street near Bartlett Street in The Mission, where they have re-purposed three parking spaces in front of Revolution Cafe, Escape from New York Pizza, and Loló Restaurant to be the city's newest public space.

"It basically acts as a relatively inexpensive way to transform parking spaces into spaces for people," said project manager Blaine Merker of Rebar, an artist collaborative best known for instigating the annual Park(ing) Day temporary parking space reclamations.

"We're taking this relatively narrow sidewalk and taking out three pretty superfluous parking spots and we're increasing the value of the streetscape by making it a place for people to hang out, to enjoy themselves and use an informal public space," Merker said.

The sixty foot linear parklet (Rebar uses the term "Walklet") is composed of pre-fabricated modular sections, each three feet wide by 6 1/2 feet deep. The module foundations are welded steel frames with bamboo decking, each affixed to the curb edge. The modules have different components, some simple flat sidewalk extensions, others with seating. One variation has seating with a planter built into it; another is a high bar 40 inches above the platform. Two modules have two bike racks each and several modules will be deep benches that allow reclining.

"The idea was to have a magic carpet of bamboo," said Merker, describing the aesthetic. "It creates a sense of prospect and refuge for people who want to inhabit the street."

Children_sitting.jpgA group of school children waited for their bus this morning on the new parklet.
The parklet addresses the crowding concern at this corner, where Revolution Cafe customers often crowd the narrow sidewalk and occasionally spill into the street. In addition to providing more space and more seating, the parklet moves some of the bicycle parking off of the curb and into the former parking spaces.

In exchange for locating the parklet in front of the businesses on 22nd Street, all three have committed to maintenance and upkeep. All three businesses also made financial contributions for construction and installation. The total cost of the project is $15,000, or $5,000 per parking spot, though Rebar donated their design services to the city.

San Francisco planners acknowledged that the new space blurred the line between public and private, but insisted that the development was a net positive for public space. 

"Instead of thinking of that space as a service area for the restaurant, it has been thought of in an innovative way which is expanding the sidewalk for public seating," said Ilaria Salvadore of the Planning Department, who oversaw the installation yesterday afternoon.

Merker highlighted the trajectory from the first Park(ing) Day in 2005, which were guerrilla installations, to the semi-institutionalized parklets, which have the blessing of Mayor Gavin Newsom as part of the Pavement to Parks program.

"Now the City of San Francisco has come around from the regulatory side," said Merker. "They've created a full-fledged permit now to allow, basically, Park(ing) Day to happen 365 days a year."

Andres Power, the Planning Department's Pavement to Parks manager, said the program had always been conceived of as a trial, but that if the plazas and parklets were welcomed by the public, the city would work to formalize a process to streamline installation.

"The intent has been through the pilot projects to develop a system where an entity can apply for the improvements in front of their properties," said Power, who noted the city has developed parklet design specifications and has written the legal language for the permit, though they are still considering guidelines for aggregate installation on a commercial corridor.

"There could be such a thing as too many [parklets]," said Power.

22nd_Parklet9.jpgThe before shot, taken yesterday.
22nd_Parklet10.jpgA similar view taken this morning.
22nd_Parklet5.jpgOne of the bike rack modules and two planter seating modules behind.
22nd_Parklet7.jpgRebar's Blaine Merker demonstrates the high-bar lean.
Tree_kid_small.jpgOne of the school children waiting for his bus does his impression of a tree, which will be planted in this module when he leaves.