The most significant change to San Francisco’s landscape in 2011 involves a conjuring act that turns parking spaces into pedestrian nooks.
They go by the name of parklets, a word that didn’t exist two years ago, and when 2011 arrived there were only four. Now there are 22, with six more approved and 44 in various stages of review.
Their reach extends from Potrero Hill to the Outer Sunset, as far north as Washington Square and as far south as one planned for the Excelsior district. The latter parklet will be built by students at the Out of Site Youth Arts Center; by contrast, Audi sponsored a “promenade” on Powell Street that was designed by noted Oakland landscape architect Walter Hood with a budget rumored to approach $1 million.
They’re also attracting attention beyond the Bay Area. Parklets have popped up in Philadelphia and Vancouver, British Columbia. Several are planned for Los Angeles. Architectural Record devoted a page this fall to “the ultimate revenge on the modern city: one less parking space, one more park.”
Correction: Two parking spaces are sacrificed, not one. In their place goes a platform that sits level with the sidewalk and is adorned with seating, plants and some form of a protective edge.
They’ve become so popular that there’s even a spin-off in four “parkmobiles” near Yerba Buena Gardens that consist of low, customized dumpsters filled by eye-catching plants with an inset bench on one side.
Enough generalities. On to the specifics: a guided tour of every parklet now open. Some are more welcoming than others. Some already show their age. The best strive to create destinations, not just seating. It’s a design experiment being conducted before our eyes, and it’s not going away.
1 100 and 200 blocks of Powell Street
Powell Street Promenade
Opened July 2011
How it looks: The “promenade” consists of eight sleek platforms with aluminum bands that rise in spots to provide tables and benches within railings that are ribboned extrapolations of the theme. No two stops are alike; several have planters that ripple along the edge, the blade-like upper rims just wide enough for a slender derriere.
How it feels: These are the most upscale eddies – Audi’s budget no doubt exceeds the other parklets combined – and the chic tone might seem jarring alongside cable cars. Here’s the flip side: The promenade nudges tourists and visitors to expect the unexpected, even in the most familiar spots. And it does get used.
2 1570 Stockton St., 423 and 526 Columbus Ave.
Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Caffe Greco and Caffe Roma
Opened October 2010-July 2011
How they look: These three parklets all were designed by Rebar Group, using yard-wide modules clad in planks of engineered bamboo; some units are flat, others include seating pods or planter boxes. Each of the trio has a different arrangement, but all cluster the flat units to create dining areas.
How they feel: The parklet outside Tony’s is the coziest, an urbane neighbor to Washington Square with colorful tile tables that add a bit of flash to a snug block. The ones outside caffes Greco and Roma are no match for the vast dimensions of Columbus Avenue; they’re like small barges along the shore of the Mississippi.
3 1755 Polk St.
The Crepe House
Opened May 2011
How it looks: Another early example of seating and not much else; even the drought-tolerant shrubs look perfunctory.
How it feels: Things were more inviting when the planters held small fir trees, but drivers complained about blocked sightlines.
4 1230 Polk St.
Opened May 2011
How it looks: Three planters perpendicular to the street split the deck into two equal sections. They’re also visually emphatic with thick walls of concrete, some striped and some sloped.
How it feels: Seating rather than chill space, to be sure. But by that standard, better than most.
5 384 Hayes St.
Arlequin and Mad Will’s Food Co.
Opened September 2011
How it looks: You know the drill. Concrete pavers, rectangular planters, movable tables and chairs. Two short benches along the sidewalk are a twist, but they don’t look inviting.
How it feels: On design-savvy Hayes Street, the utilitarian motif strikes a dour tone. Why linger here when Patricia’s Green is a block away?
1315 18th St.
Opened August 2011