Before I start school next week, I checked off a major “to do” last Friday: drag a friend to see every parklet in San Francisco.
The cheat of course is that new ones are coming up all the time, so the sooner we set out to accomplish this task, the easier it would be. Could we have waiting for a sunny day? Probably. Should we have waited until a weekend, so people would actually be enjoying the parklets in our pictures? Maybe, but by picking a dour workday, we really got a chance to touch and explore every part of all 15 currently existing San Francisco parklets.
Most of them were great, but not all. The parklet creators employed a variety materials, designs, and choices to different results. Our findings are below.
Most of the designs were pretty simple. The basic planeter + tables and chairs + deck model was really common. It was so common, that the crazy standing parklet at Four Barrel Coffee really stuck out for being different (in a good way). Cafe Abir, with its sleek and simple, but continuous planters, was my second favorite.
Mostly good: Accessibility
Not to name names, but many of the parklets didn’t have an obligatory “for public use” placard visible. The worst was the Squat and Gobble, which slathered its parklet with lengthy diatribes against the city’s “oversight” of not allowing table service to the parklet. Too bad they just don’t get the idea of public space. Which is a shame, because they have a nice parklet. I wonder if they can sell it to someone else?
Regarding the other use of the term “accessibility”, the parklets were all built very flush against the sidewalk. One clearly poured additional concrete to straighten out a bumpy curb, but it worked. Good design and good execution – building a level parklet on a bumpy street is no easy accomplishment.
If there’s ever been a need for Christmas lights, it’s parklets. Squat and Gobbles overhead strings of lights were really tasteful, and Mojo’s regular ol’ white Christmas lights made it look like a party. Small lights within the planters also added a nice touch.
It was great to see so many native and dry-climate species of plants. The best, by far, was what I can best describe as a succulent triceratops in Amandeep Jawa’s residential parklet. But overall, the grasses, succulents, and other reeds made me appreciate that there’s more to flora than flowers. Plus, they look much sturdier and are less likely to get picked.
The fig tree growing in the Queztal Cafe parklet looked healthy, so bravo to that ambitious plan.
Mixed: Pairing with businesses
The type and number of businesses near the parklet really matters. Generally, cafes are safe, and the more businesses of any kind the merrier.
Without city-wide open container laws, alcohol cannot be legally consumed in a parklet. Plus, without table service, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to put a parklet near a bar. I learned this the hard way during PARK(ing) Day last year, so I felt a good sense of sympathy to Cafe Abir, which even had a vodka-branded umbrella in its parklet. The art store Just for Fun (or “Scribbledoodles”), on the other hand, blew my mind with its awesome arty parklet. We didn’t expect the sailor-proof paint and washable easel – it was quite a treat.
What a difference some maintenance makes. All put one of the parklets seemed really well maintained (clean, in good condition) when we walked by, and that one exception was actually in the process of being swept. Still, the litter and debris made it a bit sad. The plants were also a bit close to where people might sit, which gave them a worn and trampeld look. Overall, a bit of a bummer.
Mostly good: Bike parking
Most parklets have at least a few bike racks. Some where laid out really efficiently (like Four Barrel), others (like Escape from New York) seemed to take more space than necessary. It looked like Freewheel Bike Shop was parking bikes for sale in its parklet’s bike parking, which seemed like a bit of a faux pas, but at least they left several spots open for others.
Great: Quality of construction
Unfailingly, the parklets were all really solidly constructed. Some used wood, others used plastic that looked like wood until we got closer. They all allowed for some sort of drainage (best we could tell). Some of the tables were bolted down, and others were made entirely of immovable benches. If these parklets cost around $20,000 to construct, it shows.
Tables and chairs: very red!
Seriously, where do they come from? It seems like the same tables and chairs lived in half the parklets. Cafe Queztal at least got a mixture of colors. How does one become the official table/chair manufacturer of the SF parklets?
It only took 9.5 miles (and about 10 stop eat/drink/shop) to see all the parklets, and I strongly recommend a similar or shorter tour to anyone considering building their own semi-permanent parklet. If nothing else, it’s a good way to see the city with built in breaks.