Have you ever gone to a conference in a park? How about a park at a conference? This January, attendees at the 2015 New Partners for Smart Growth (NPSG) Conference in Baltimore, MD had a chance to do both.
PlaceMatters teamed up with Alta Planning + Design to design, build and host two parklets in the foyer of the conference venue. The parklets welcomed a steady stream of visitors throughout the conference, many of whom found it a perfect place to hang out, meet, and enjoy lunch.
A parklet is a: “small urban park, often created by replacing a parking spot with sod, planters, trees, benches, café tables and chairs–even artwork or bicycle parking. They are designed to provide urban green space and to bring awareness to the quantity of public community space that is devoted to parking rather than creating vibrant community spaces” (American Society of Landscape Architects, ASLA.org).
Parklets are typically installed in a standard 10′ x 20′ parking space in urban areas where current green space is lacking or where the existing sidewalk width is not large enough to accommodate vibrant street life activities and passive recreation. Parklets provide a community space for passersby to sit, relax, interact with other city-dwellers, and enjoy the city atmosphere around them.
The first parklet was installed in San Francisco in 2011 as part of a movement to bring back a more holistic view of city spaces and streets, and parklets have since garnered support from planners, residents, and even business owners who enjoy the unique, vibrant public space which in turn attracts customers and fosters community interaction. Many cities, including San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago, have embraced the concept and install parklets at least seasonally.
For the past three years at NPSG, we have designed indoor demonstration parklets to showcase a variety of uses, designs, and potential activities that can blossom in these small spaces. Just as a real urban parklet might, the demonstration parklets naturally became a place for folks to have meetings, connect with other conference-goers, charge their run-down cell phones in our custom repurposed Charge Box, or even just enjoy a quiet lunch or respite amidst pleasant scenery.
Numerous conference sessions and activities were scheduled in the parklets as well, demonstrating the wide variety of uses that unconventional public spaces can have. The “Reimagining Streets Parklet” hosted the PlaceMatters SmartTable, a DIY interactive SmartTable that we used to demonstrate WALKscope, CrowdGauge, Streetmix, and other great tools to reimagine streets and communities. The parklet was also the site for “The Doctor is In”- 20-minute office hour sessions with Kevin Nelson from EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities, at which conference attendees could get one-on-one advice about smart growth and sustainable development questions.
Above, left & center: Conference attendees take a quick respite with conversation. Right: The PlaceMatters Charge Box, repurposed from shipping palettes for the benches, and equipped with a shelf, power strip, and iPhone and miniUSB chargers.
The “Active Living Parklet” served as a hub of healthy activity. Partnering with AARP, the theme of this parklet was “MOBILIZE your mind and body,” with a focus on health for aging adults who benefit from physical and mental activities. One side of the parklet was programmed with activities including yoga, stretches, and strengthening exercises. A trainer was available to guide visitors through a series of movements to improve mobility and strength. The other side was a quiet respite with an ADA accessible bench, a “Little Free Library,” and a reading nook for young children – complete with book cases and pillows. As America’s population ages, it is critical to design public spaces with the over-65 population in mind. This parklet demonstrated how to simultaneously serve and design spaces for those who are active and those who may have physical challenges.
Above, left: The first step of creating the parklet was rolling out the grass floor. Center: Conference-goers enjoy a quiet respite. Right: A conference attendee receives a free exercise lesson from our in-parklet trainer.
The parklets would not have been possible if it were not for the generous help and contributions from several local businesses:
- Victor Stanley – Benches, Trash/Recycling Receptacles, Planters, Bike Racks
- Unilock – Pavers
- Kompan – Turf
- Zipcar – Planters, Corn Hole, Zipcar Bike Rack
- AARP – Little Free Library, Books, Plants
Both parklets were designed as temporary installations for the conference. Each space contributed to educating conference attendees from across the nation about the impact of small urban spaces. In addition, some of the sponsoring vendors offered to donate the demonstration materials to the City of Baltimore to become a catalyst for the implementation of future parklets around the City. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of Baltimore, spoke at the conference, and PlaceMatters and Alta Planning + Design were honored to offer her a tour of the parklets prior to her presentation. The team highlighted potential impacts of parklets on livability and economic development and presented one of the spaces to the Mayor as a gift to the residents and visitors of Baltimore. She accepted the gift and we are awaiting to hear the location where the parklet will be installed. Stay tuned for more information about the installation! And watch out for parklets, coming soon to more conferences and streets near you.