A Parklet

Ugly parking places transformed into delightful dining spots. Or outdoor art galleries. Or herb gardens that scent the air as you head into a restaurant.

The idea of transforming dingy parking spots and other unused curbside spaces into visually enticing mini parks is a movement gaining traction across the U.S.

Now Redlands is getting on board.

The city is launching a Parklet Pilot Project that will lead to the creation of least one small sidewalk or curbside park by Sept. 19, the ninth annual international Park(ing) Day.

Ryan Berk, 29, who owns two downtown businesses, one of which has a small park/herb garden next to it, and is leading the way on the parklets idea, said they will set Redlands apart from other well-known historic downtowns in Southern California.

“This is something that Claremont doesn’t have, that Old Town Orange doesn’t have … that will make us unique,” he told the City Council on Tuesday, March 4.

He envisions a collaboration of artists, architects and business owners creating visually interesting and unique spaces downtown.

Patty Hart, manager of the Olive Avenue Market, envisions the market having one of the first parklet in the street out front. The business already has obtained city permission to use the parkway in front of the business for tables and chairs, but would like to expand into an Olive Avenue parking spot.

“We think that we’re in the perfect location for a pilot project,” Hart said.

Councilman Jon Harrison presented the concept, which he said would be a year-long effort to create several parklets without spending a lot of money or using much city staff time. Four people have volunteered to serve on an organizing committee, he said.

Several other businesses have expressed interest in creating parklets – Martha Green’s Eatery on Citrus Avenue, Gerrard’s Market on Center Street, Augie’s Coffee Roasters on Fifth Street and Rok N Fondue on State Street.

The parklets would not all be in the street, Harrison said. On State Street, for example, where parking is at a premium, they could be created in areas where the sidewalk bows out for a tree well, he said.

The idea originated in San Francisco in 2005, when Rebar, an art and design studio in the city, paid for two hours of parking in a space along a downtown street. They rolled out a length of sod, plopped down a bench and a boxed tree and created a temporary park in a city more focused on vehicles than urban open space, the Park(ing) Day website states.

A photo of the park was shared across the internet and the idea caught on. The next year, 47 parks were created in 13 cities in three countries across two continents, the website states. By 2011, Park(ing) Day had become an annual September event. That year, there were 975 parks in 162 cities in 35 countries across six continents, the website states.

Riverside has held several Park(ing) Day events, when landscaping businesses, architects and even the city’s parks and recreation department have created parks for a day along Mission Inn Avenue. But none has remained in place longer than a day.

Redlands Councilman Bob Gardner said he saw parklets while visiting Grand Junction, Colo.

“As you drive through the Main Street area there are these things that catch your eye … and break up what frankly would be a kind of boring downtown,” Gardner said.

Downtown visitors shouldn’t be worried about the loss of parking spots, he said, because it would be good for most of them to walk a little farther to their destinations.

“In the long run we need to get people out of their cars and encourage habits that don’t depend on using the car for everything we do,” Gardner said.

Mayor Pete Aguilar pointed out that the city’s redesign of Ed Hales Park at Fifth and State streets was intended to provide opportunities for restaurants to use the space, and that State Street Deli, across the street, already offers sidewalk dining.

“So we do some of this already, we just don’t call it that officially,” Aguilar said.

Harrison said he hopes the architecturally designed parklets will be more successful than a mobile park the city created a couple of years ago by turning a shipping container into a planter with seating.

“In certain situations that may be ideal, but we haven’t found the right spot for that one yet, he said.

The goal is to launch the year-long pilot project on Sept. 19. Between now and then, a committee of four volunteers will meet with city staff to develop guidelines and regulations, and talk with business people to find out how receptive they are and what concerns they have.

Harrison said the trend toward creating small, useable outdoor spaces is exciting for communities that want to see “downtowns being the living rooms of cities again.”

Contact Jan Sears at 951-368-9477 or jsears@pe.com

PARKLET PROJECT

Redlands is joining a long list of cities that are creating small parks to make commercial areas more inviting.

WHAT: Small, attractively designed areas in a parking space or along a sidewalk that offer seating, landscaping, bicycle parking and may incorporate art.

WHERE: Five businesses have expressed interest in creating a parklet.

OBSERVATION: Park(ing) Day is observed internationally on the third Friday in September.

MORE INFORMATION: parkingday.org

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