On upper Haight Street, where merchants were portrayed as proponents in a campaign that criminalized sitting on public sidewalks last year, Dave Mclean sees a public realm in need of more places for neighbors and visitors to gather. As the owner of two businesses on the street, he’s ready to jump at the chance to create that space with two new parklets.
“I’ve loved the parklet concept since I first heard about it and saw the one at Mojo on Divisadero as it was being built,” said Mclean, who would love to see parklets outside both Magnolia Pub and The Alembic Bar. “They seem like something that can become a real community asset and add energy and vitality to a neighborhood’s sidewalk culture.”
The flocks of cafes, restaurants and community organizations eager to liven up their street space with an attractive new parklet are getting another shot at applying for a permit. The SF Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program has issued its second Request for Proposals (RFP) [pdf] and is accepting applications for the next six weeks. With over forty businesses having already expressed interest, demand is just as high as it was in the first round.
Parklets provide businesses and non-profit organizations a way to help enliven a neighborhood’s public realm by expanding crowded sidewalks for seating, greenery, bike parking, and other creative uses. Many have already become community gathering spots and neighborhoods are clamoring for more.
Last fall’s RFP period drew 39 applicants, with 27 permits issued, although about eight are still on hold or have been withdrawn for various reasons, said Project Manager Andres Power.
Many of the approved parklets are moving through the planning process, and some are already sprouting up.
In the Tenderloin, two planned parklets could provide public space for the neighborhood as Boeddeker Park is closed for renovation, thanks to the Trust for Public Land’s Parks for People program.
“We thought it would be a real loss to the neighborhood to have one of the only open spaces in the Tenderloin closed for 16 months,” said Parks for People project associate Trudy Garber. “The Community Benefit District also wanted to have a second one a couple blocks away in front of an apartment building where a lot of neighborhood kids hang out because it’s important for them to create stewardship and have this amenity.”
The Tenderloin parklets will feature community-oriented design elements [pdf] such as a boardwalk area stenciled with art by residents, hollow concrete seating and table fixtures “arranged in a geometry that provides a variety of space,” and mobile wheelbarrows designed by a community artist that will provide greenery during the day. The permits have been approved, and construction is expected in 2012.
The new RFP does include a few minor changes, including a two-week extension of the application period and a $450 savings available for spots without parking meters due to a reduced need for labor and materials, said Power. The number of permits approved for this period will also be limited to 25, although they try to accept any proposal that meets all the criteria.
Measures were also added to reinforce the parklets’ strict designation as a public space following concerns about their use as a private space for restaurant customers.
Restaurant and cafe owners will need to sign an explicit agreement saying they will not provide table service in the parklet, and the seating must look different than existing sidewalk furniture. The amendments stem from what Power described as a miscommunication with the owner of Squat and Gobble, who had initially offered table service to customers sitting in the parklet now fronting the restaurant.
With parklet applicants taking the initiative to design structures around building community, the core motivation for most seems to transcend the simple economic benefits.
“It seems like a natural fit to place some of them in front of businesses that people already gather or congregate at,” said Mclean. “We really try to serve the community at both places and, to me, this just presents another avenue for us to work with and contribute to our neighborhood.”