When it comes to reclaiming street space for people, San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program has paved the way with a national model showing how cities can embrace community-driven parklet projects. But when it comes to installing plazas, there seems to have been little movement since the first handful were created on “excess” road space in the program’s first year. Advocates and some city officials say the program needs to become a greater priority for city leaders.
Since the multi-agency Pavement to Parks was launched in mid-2009, 38 parklets have been installed through its permitting program, including the two-block Powell Street Promenade. Five plazas were also installed using temporary materials at a rapid clip in the program’s first year, under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. Since then, however, no new plazas have been installed, only a few projects are in the pipeline, and the program has made little headway in developing a system for long-term maintenance and permanent upgrades.
“The Pavement to Parks initiative has proven very effective in adding a touch of grace to the public realm, and in changing the perception of our streets as not just places for automobiles but as rightful places for people,” said David Alambaugh, manager of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “The program has met with very strong popular support. There is strong interest in seeing the program continue and thrive, and to take on new issues and new challenges.”
But the program “has managed to succeed with only modest support from the city,” he said. “If it is to thrive and to be successful, and especially if it is to be expanded to take on new challenges, it will need strong, formal funding and strong political support.”
Whether that leadership will come from Mayor Ed Lee, however, is unclear. When Streetsblog asked the mayor if he plans to support the expansion of Pavement to Parks plaza projects, his response wasn’t quite a full-throated “yes.” Plaza projects “take a long time,” he said, “because we want it to really be embraced by the neighborhoods, and we have to spend that quality time to make sure everything we do is embraced by those communities.”
Advocates compare the state of Pavement to Parks to the ongoing expansion of plazas in New York City, where, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, dozens of public space expansions in neighborhoods around the city have been implemented over the past few years. That includes Times Square, where plans for a physically permanent plaza are already underway.
“I am fortunate to work for a mayor who has unbelievable political courage,” said NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan yesterday evening, when she spoke at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards, eliciting applause from her San Franciscan audience.