University City District Report Says Parklets Enhance Neighborhoods

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Originally published by Philadelphia Magazine

The elimination of parking space–even if it’s the loss of one or two spots–in a low-density neighborhood is not something drivers are likely to enjoy hearing, especially if their removal is for the purposes of a temporary Parklet. Unfortunately for them, a recently published report by the University City District reveals Parklets, a form of tactical urbanism, to be quite the improvement to most neighborhoods and businesses.

Using data gathered from six West Philly Parklets during the 2013 season, the report, called The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses, found them to bring "life to public spaces and more feet to neighborhood businesses," as seen in their tendency for bringing in a sizable amount of users (including both patrons of nearby businesses and non-patrons), creating a "spillover" effect to sidewalks and other spaces (i.e. people stopping by to chat with parklet users), and boosting business sales for neighboring establishments (an average 20% increase in sales was seen for places near parklets). Furthermore, the report argues that because "it has been widely observed" that women are more discriminating when it comes to public spaces, the even number of female and male persons putting them to use shows that a sense of safety grows in the presence of a Parklet.

And those aren't the only advantages neighborhoods get with the arrival of these seasonal pop-ups, as PlanPhilly's John Geeting points out:

A secondary benefit, not given much attention in this report but mentioned elsewhere by representatives from the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities, is that creating parklets and pedestrian plazas helps build the capacity of neighborhood organizations.

Moving these mini parks from the idea phase to the physical creations is more involved than it might seem, and the process of deciding on a design, shepherding it through the city's approval process, fundraising, constructing the parks, and coming up with a maintenance plan is an exercise in team building that leaves communities in a stronger position to work together to tackle other neighborhood projects.

So what exactly goes on at these Parklets that have them enhancing neighborhoods? More importantly, can we tell whether they will succeed or not in certain areas?

Click to enlarge. | Chart screenshot of UCD report.

Well, as mentioned earlier, they pull in a significant amount of people who engage others (see chart to the left), thereby "attract[ing] huge and diverse crowds" that help businesses and "create 'places' where none existed before." Of course, the amount spent socializing, which is contingent on the time and reason Parklet users are there in the first place, is one of two main activities that appear to lure in more users, the other being dining.

Determining the success or failure of a Parklet, the report suggests, depends on the whether or not the host business offers Parklet-friendly products (i.e. take-out/hand-held food), high customer turnover, "modest seating capacity," and if the parklet can be seen from the interior space:

In the case of the more successful Parklets, a façade that included large windows fostered a sense of connection between the business and the Parklet, a perception that was aided by narrow sidewalks, another moderately strong predictor of parklet performance.

Bicycle lanes and parallel parking spaces--aka, vehicle buffers--also seemed to encourage the use of parklets. You can read the full report with additional info in the link below.

BY ANGELLY CARRION


View "University City District Report Says Parklets Enhance Neighborhoods" at phillymag.com

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