Over the past few months, the Gazette has published several articles and critical editorials about Boston’s new parklet pilot project. Public outreach, the project’s budget and the use of public funds seem to be the paper’s major concerns.
Parklets are pockets of green space, outdoor seating, bike racks, public art and other pedestrian amenities built on a moveable platform and installed on the edge of the sidewalk. Parklets may take up one or two street parking spaces. A number of other U.S cities have successfully installed parklets on urban streets.
Process issues aside, I for one enthusiastically support the parklet project, in part because the temporary nature of the design itself encourages adaptation and change to meet neighborhood needs.
The Boston parklet concept was the City’s response to public comments made during the JP Centre/South streetscape planning project. During this project, concerns were raised about the business impact of replacing select parking spaces with wider sidewalks and green space. Almost every roadway improvement project seems to face at least some of these same questions.
Parklets offer a new way to evaluate the impact of converting parking spaces to green spaces. Parklets are built as temporary structures. If a parklet doesn’t function as intended at one location, it can be moved to a new one. In this way, the risk of permanent change is minimized.
Concerns about the pilot’s modest costs neglect the fact that the city already subsidizes parking costs for businesses through free parking and street maintenance. Replacing pavement with green space uses some of that money to improve the public way in a new way: bringing parks right into our neighborhoods. Parklets are a tool to help find the best balance.
Adjacent businesses and local Main Streets programs should be and are involved in the exact siting and upkeep of parklets. But parklets are public space just like street parking is, not owned and paid for by businesses. Furthermore, the pilot parklet designs require special attention to issues such as Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility and siting in the street. Future designs will benefit from this research. It is unreasonable to expect businesses to assume these start-up costs.
Citizen input should also be integral to the process. The City has committed to additional public outreach that will hopefully bring more neighborhood interest, comments and new ideas to the parklet project. Any previous failures of process, however, should not overshadow the promise of this innovative project.