When thinking about “public space,” you may immediately conjure visions of lush parks and marble fountains.

What you might overlook is the largest public space in just about every city in the world – the streets you drive, walk, and ride your bike on. Parklets help non-car users take back parts of those streets and create mini recreational areas to play or simply relax.

HISTORY

In 2005, a group of designers and engineers from Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, took over a single metered parking space for a day. It was simple – some sod and tables and chairs to mimic a full-size park – but the act in itself made big waves. Their perspective-shifting parklet forever changed how people used even the smallest bit of public space. Something traditionally used as a simple parking spot could now be a catalyst for change.

In Philadelphia

Now in its 10th year, PARK(ing) Day is celebrated worldwide and has an especially great presence in Philadelphia. The excellent team at AIA Philadelphia organizes and promotes the event which takes place Friday, September 15. What once had humble beginnings now transforms neighborhoods through inventive use of space most thought was only meant for vehicles.

Results

While 2016 showcased nearly 200 parklets in Philadelphia, we were most excited by Jon Geeting’s work with Reanimator Coffee in the Fishtown section of the city. Jon – whose innumerable projects include co-founding 5th Square, an urbanist PAC – sees the day as an opportunity for city-sanctioned experimentation.

“There’s no permit or other process through the city for using a space in this way. By getting the leg-work done [through AIA], it makes it easy for groups to showcase ideas that can have longer-term implications for their neighborhoods.” – Jon Geeting

Jon is working with the city and neighborhood to potentially make the Reanimator Triangle a permanent public space that would be operated separately from the business. You won’t need to buy a latte to enjoy the space, which would be made clear to residents through signage near the seats. The project is a great example of tactical urbanism at work.

This year, Jon and a team of volunteers are targeting another problem intersection at Belgrade and Frankford. The awkward four-way intersection makes for a very long crossing, with the added difficulty of being approached from the south via a curve on the busy commercial corridor.

“A lot of neighbors are interested in a solution to make the crossing shorter and safer for every mode of transportation” – Jon Geeting 

The proposed parklet, shown in the diagram above, is one potential solution. By extending into the Belgrade & Crease St intersection, it creates a clear path for cars, pedestrians, and cyclists and shortens the crossing significantly. In the snow-covered image, you can see this area is avoidable to drivers, and thus shouldn’t have much traffic impact. This type of experiment would be significantly more difficult and costly to produce without the structure put in place by the city on PARK(ing) Day.

By working with the neighborhood and local council offices, Jon hopes to keep the parklet up through the weekend to increase visibility for the project. It also allows for more community input and feedback, which is collected through conversations and a short survey administered on-site.

Ultimately, PARK(ing) Day is an opportunity to reimagine our public spaces. 

It gives us time to pause and question – what can we gain by designing for all modes of transit? For too long urban planning has taken a auto-centric view, and as the economy rapidly cleans itself up, there is huge potential for improvements to the built environment. We’re proud that Philadelphia continues this experiment and moves closer towards it’s big picture goals.

Are there opportunities for this type of experimentation in your neighborhood? We’d love to hear about your PARK(ing) Day plans and past experiences – let us know by tagging @cohere_co on Twitter. Check out the full map for parklets throughout the city, we hope to see you in the streets.