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Five Years On, SF Parklets Are Going Strong and Looking to Grow

Five years after the city installed its first parklet, there are more than 50 of these neighborhood gathering spaces throughout San Francisco. Using a couple of parking spaces for public space is no longer the act of rebellion it was ten years ago. The practice is now an institution in SF, and parklets are more widespread here than in any other city.

The SF Planning Department's new Parklet Manual.
The SF Planning Department's new Parklet Manual.
The SF Planning Department's new Parklet Manual.

Business owners and designers who've created parklets attest to their community-building benefits in a new video from the SF Planning Department's parklet program, which celebrates its five-year anniversary this season.

The program also released a new request for proposals to build more parklets, as well an updated version of its manual to help prospective parklet-makers navigate the bureaucratic process. Two open house informational sessions will also be held this month to explain the process.

While most parklets are hosted by cafes, restaurants, and other storefront businesses, Parklet Program Manager Robin Abad Ocubillo said that in this round, the city is looking to encourage parklet proposals "spearheaded by youth, arts, and educational organizations."

Ocubillo said parklet program staff were "inspired by [parklets] from those types of groups." For example, one of the newest parklets on Valencia Street is hosted by the SF Boys and Girls Club. The design by the Exploratorium seeks to "create an informal science learning space accessible to all members of the Mission neighborhood."

The parklet frontier continues to expand into new neighborhoods like Bayview.

In the video, Giulietta Carelli, owner of Trouble Coffee, attests to the parklets by her locations in Bayview and the Outer Sunset. "The parklet is affecting the community," she says. "People are walking down the street and they're noticing, wow, there used to be a car there. Now we have a place to be."

"One of the most important things parklets do for communities," said Ocubillo, "is provide outdoor gathering space in neighborhoods where public open space is scarce or takes a long time to walk to."

Ocubillo said more videos will be released "highlighting community members who help make parklets, plazas, and other grassroots-initiated projects happen." Those could help make the case to advocates in other cities looking to adopt parklets.

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