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In San Francisco, parklets take over public space

Urbanism | No comments

par Elsa Sidawy | 10.05.11

une_parklets_11030
Sidewalk cafés, giant jardinières, fountains, playgrounds for children, patches of green, bike parking areas… For the past few years, the city of San Francisco has been undergoing a strange urban transformation. Through the Pavement to Parks program, the Great Streets association gathers together architects, artists and landscape gardeners endeavoring to convert parking spaces and unused patches of tarmac for the benefit of pedestrians. What is now called parklet is meant to reassert the place of “soft” means of transportation in the city by turning macadam into living space. Either mobile or fixed, permanent or seasonal, on private or public ground, the main characteristic of these parklets is their modularity. For Warren Karlenzig, “this program is one of the most exciting deployments in the trend of enabling reduced urban dependency on cars, while fostering artistic and nature-enhanced community.

corps_parklets_11030Real city-planning processes
According to the Green Flow website, what with parking spaces and the street network, one quarter of San Francisco’s public space has been historically designed for cars. Parklets have been imagined to reverse the trend. The unofficial initiative dates back to 2005 when designers from the San Francisco Rebar Group invented their first parklet by converting a parking space. Gradually, through the Parking Day movement that suggests citizens from every in the world to reclaim exterior parking spaces for one or two days, the phenomenon grew.
The city of San Francisco’s official “Pavement to Parks” program took over the project in order to facilitate the installation of these kinds of spaces, inspired by similar examples in New York. “Having been named, these reclamations are thus made “official”and prove that they are they are thought of as real city-planning processes, not as mere détournements without lasting consequences. More than a simple redistribution of the city’s times and spaces, the parklet trend shows and accompanies a deep reconfiguration of practices – of mobility more particularly – and the necessary evolution of urban morphologies it brings about,” Philippe Gargov, a specialist in digital cities, analyzes in a Chronos comments column.

corps_parklets2_11030Will there soon be public toilets in place of parking spaces?
Since the official movement started, about twenty of these spaces have thus been reclaimed in San Francisco (see map). Today, brand companies make no mistake and compete for displaying their labels. This year, one of the biggest installations to this day, put in place last summer on the very busy Powell Street, has been sponsored by the Audi group. The line is very thin between civic reclamation and private investment…

Convinced that this is a valid approach, local authorities are now even considering replacing certain parking spaces by ecological toilets via the “Ecological toilet project”. Not connected to the sewer system, these public toilets could help both fight against people urinating on the highway and collect excrement for recycling. Industrial ecology at city level, in sum.

Photo credits: sfpavementtoparks.sfplanning.org (front page) / www.sfgate.com / sfpavementtoparks.sfplanning.org

Translated by Oona Bijasson

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