We’ve all heard the timeless adage “stop and smell the roses.” While this is sound advice, when folks today find a spare moment away from life’s responsibilities they are more likely to be transfixed by a handheld device than by the natural beauty that surrounds them. This is especially true in urban environments, where nature and play spaces are often hard to come by.
This is what inspired the invention of parklets.
An Italian designer named Suzi Bolognese developed parklets as a way for people living in urban environments to reconnect with the natural world. The San Francisco Great Streets Project defines a parklet as “a small public sidewalk extension, usually extending two parking spaces that use non-permanent materials. It combines elements such as seating, trees, flowers, shrubs, umbrellas, bike parking, or lighting that reflect the unique character and needs of the location.”
An article I recently read on Next City, “What a 2-Year-Old Can Teach Us About City Planning,” explores the value of public spaces like this in urban environments. Parklets serve as an intimate oasis where pedestrians can sit, rest, relax, and enjoy the atmosphere that the city has to offer, turning the journey into the destination. They populate urban environments where outdoor recreation and congregation spaces are sparse, enhancing the overall aesthetic value of the streetscape.
San Francisco is known as the first parklet city and boasts more parklets than any other location in the world. However, other prominent cities like Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle have followed suit.
Aesthetic value aside, parklets provide many benefits, including:
- Attracting customers
- Increasing foot traffic
- Offering reasons to linger
- Stimulating social capital
- Adding open green space to congested city environments
- Connecting with the local community and improving the sense of a neighborhood
- Offering a buffer zone between the sidewalk and the street
Although parklets provide opportunities for passive recreation, some recent innovative designs infuse active recreation elements as well. These active elements can include exercise equipment like stationary bikes, treadmills, and elliptical trainers. For the younger crowd, a variety of playground equipment (like Playworld’s NEOS Wall that blends the excitement of video games with the heart pumping rush of free play) and loose parts can keep children actively engaged for hours of fun in the sun.
During your next excursion to a big city, be on the lookout for a parklet where you can stop and smell the roses, enjoy a latte and enjoy outdoor play all at the same time.