Despite the fact that most of them tend to look like café seating, a parklet can be an endless amount of things—anything that you can imagine in the space of a parking spot or two that can gain the approval of your neighbors and community.

From Parking Spot to Public Park

Over the past several years, parklets have been popping up all over the city of San Francisco. Where did they come from, what would it take for them to reach their full potential, and how do we encourage our city and others to create more public green spaces?

In 2005 San Francisco’s Rebar art and design studio fed a parking meter with coins, unrolled some grass sod, and placed a potted tree on top, turning an otherwise ‘private’ parking area into a ‘public’ park (or parklet) and giving birth to PARK(ing) Day, now a worldwide annual event.

The idea more than caught on. Today there are about 38 parklets throughout the city, managed by the San Francisco Pavement to Parks program. Their goal is to add more public space to our streets to reflect the diversity and creativity of the people and organizations sponsoring and designing them.

Because swissnex San Francisco is participating in the 2013 PARK(ing) Day with our own parklet dedicated to urban farming, and because it’d be just plain cool to have our own, semi permanent parklet installed, I’ve been researching what parklets can be.

Innovation and Creativity: Best Parklets Offer More Than Seats

What I’ve found is that there is a lot of flexibility when it comes to parklets. Despite the fact that most of them tend to look like café seating, a parklet can actually be an endless amount of things—anything that you can imagine in the space of a parking spot or two and that can gain the approval of your neighbors and community. Some folks are even challenging the limits of a temporary parklet, so temporary that it travels.

There are some rules of course: a parklet must always be built as a temporary structure that could be removed within 24 hours if needed. But from there the possibilities are limited only by the boundaries of your creativity. Until now, many of the parklets out there, although they increase outdoor seating, haven’t been very experimental. Recently, however, the city of San Francisco granted some more unusual projects, such as the Luna Rienne Gallery parklet (formerly Fabric8), designed by local artist Erik Otto (see video above).

This parklet periodically commissions a different artist to revision the space—truly inspiring! The current installation, Head In The Clouds by Ursula Xanthe Young, was completed in January 2013 and features a 3D cityscape mural and outdoor theater along with portable seating.

Below, a few more of my favorite parklets in San Francisco. Let’s take a lesson from these inventive cityscapes and, going forward, be bold and unexpected as we dream up public spaces that are low maintenance, serve multiple purposes, help green the city, and get everyone on board!

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