Reimagining PARK(ing) Spaces


Powell Street Promenade parklet, which has solar panels that provide Wi-Fi, in San Francisco. Image courtesy of San Francisco Planning + Urban Research under Creative Commons License

Parklet in San Francisco’s Little Italy. Image courtesy of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition under Creative Commons License

The Freewheel Parklet, located outside a bike shop in San Francisco.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

‘Deepistan National Parklet, on Valencia Street in San Francisco, was the city’s first resident-sponsored parklet. Image courtesy of Payton Chung under Creative Commons License

Divisadero Street parklet in San Francisco, which has bike parking and café seating. Image courtesy of jeremyashaw under Creative Commons License


PARK(ing) Day has become an annual event during which citizens, artists, and activists band together to transform metered automobile parking spaces into tiny and temporary public parks. Last year, in a single day, 975 of these parks were built and dismantled in 162 municipalities across 35 countries.

The creative spark for this idea came from Rebar, a San Francisco design firm whose mission is to inspire people to reimagine the urban environment. In 2005, the Rebar folks took over a one-car parking spot in an area of San Francisco that was devoid of any public open space. They created an instant mini-park by rolling out sod and adding a bench and a potted tree. After two hours, the maximum time allotted by the meter, the park was rolled back up and disappeared. But the significance of this isolated local event resounded across the world when photos of it were uploaded to the internet. Almost immediately, dozens of cities and towns were scrambling to create their own versions of the project. Rebar responded by creating a how-to manual to help empower and guide interested communities in the creation of their own parklets.

Since 2005, the design of parklets has expanded beyond the sod-bench-tree typology, with much creativity and thought now going into the quality of intervention and the possibility for reimagining 150 square-foot spots. In recent years, participating cities and towns have created urban farms, art installations, free bike repair shops, and more. Though PARK(ing) Day continues annually, its legacy is an ever-growing number of semi-permanent parks that take up the same amount of space but remain for as long as the space remains vital to the neighborhood.

Parklets have provided opportunities for organizations to raise awareness about projects affecting the quality of life in their communities. Louisville’s 2011 Park(ing) Day project was undertaken, in part, to raise awareness about biking in the city. Each parklet featured bike parking to encourage people to leave their cars at home and bike. At the event, seven pop-up parklets were created, all programmed by not-for-profit organizations. Urban Design Studio, a group focused on sustainability, created an urban farm; the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft created a meditation garden; and the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation invited the public to build a model city out of cardboard boxes.

Inspired by PARK(ing) Day, many businesses in cities across the country are establishing curbside parks in front of their shops. In Oakland, California, the owner of a popular café put out a wooden table, chairs and planters in a parklet in front of the café. In other communities, businesses with walk-up service, such as coffee shops and pizzerias, have been eyeing parklets as a way of attracting more foot traffic. In most cases, business owners pay for the construction and maintenance of the parklets.

Some communities are even embracing the idea of longer-term parklets. In New York City, portions of Broadway in Manhattan have been transformed into pedestrian-only spaces. And in San Francisco, the Pavement to Parks initiative currently has 30 short-term parklets in place, and a number of business associations and merchants are on a waiting list for sponsoring new ones. In June 2012, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared that “the car is no longer king” when he announced the boston.PARKLETS program.

PARK(ing) Day takes place every September. Click here for more info and start planning today.