The Design Studio known as Rebar kicked-off what became a revolutionary idea when they started "Parking Day". Their idea was to pay the meter for street parking spaces, and occupy the parking spaces with recreational areas instead of cars. Their idea took off and what became known as "parklets" spread quickly across San Francisco and cities across the globe.
Many cities have formalized processes for the registration of parklets. Business owners often sponsor parklets occupying parking spaces in front of their business in order to provide additional seating for patrons and attract customers. Parklets are considered privately-owned, publicly occupied spaces. The private-ownership of these spaces provides a great deal of opportunity for a variety of design approaches that can represent neighborhood character, specialize to provide customized amenities, or work to promote local business.
AC Transit in California has begun to experiment with using this approach to enhance not just curbspace, but bus stops. Local businesses have partnered with AC transit to sponsor a "bus parklet", which offers public seating to cafe and shop patrons, while also providing a comfortable and attractive waiting place for the bus. Bus parklets differ from generic parklets in that they have an open side to the street to allow for bus boarding, and that they must conform to certain design standards.
Miami is a city that embraces an identity as a capital of art and design, yet it has struggled over the last decade to create unique, readable, and landmark public urban places. The skyline has expanded dramatically due to capital investment in real estate, yet surprisingly little of that capital has been invested into creating a comfortable, walkable, and safe public realm. Bus parklets can provide an opportunity to create character at a pedestrian scale by allowing a variety of design expressions throughout the city which can represent its heart and soul, help develop a civic identity through shared spaces, and promote the use of these spaces and the public transportation networks that they are a part of.
In addition to providing opportunities for civic expression, bus parklets can be proving grounds for a variety of amenities, from the simplest to the wildest. Some examples of potential concepts:
- A bus parklet outside of a cafe that provides seating with a vine-covered roof that shades patrons from bright sunlight. The sponsoring cafe would benefit from expanding their service capacity. The construction of such a parklet might be an iron frame supporting a plywood floor, with a wooden slat roof offering less than 50% coverage. Railings might provide separation between a seating area and the street, while another area might be open to the street and include a street-facing bench backed by planters.
- A market in front of a bus stop might want a permit to use sidewalk space for displaying produce or other goods. A bus parket can expand the amount of usable space for that market, so that crates of fresh fruit can be placed on the sidewalk without obstructing the sidewalk or bus stop. The sponsoring market may decide on a design for the parklet which meshes well with the displays and offers the best use of space for both users of public space and its own interests. Some long bench seating can be placed in the parklet which offers space for people to wait with grocery bags. Perhaps the market owners have been looking for a way to encourage patrons to buy their ready-to-eat or quick-order foods, but have never had the space to offer seating. Such a parklet can offer surfaces for people to use as tables and sit with their guarapos, cortaditos, kombuchas, croquettas, and the like.
- Perhaps a bus parklet site is on a stretch of road that includes no relief from the sun for blocks, and the design incorporates water misters. Perhaps the county library system sponsors a parklet, and includes an enclosed, air-conditioned area in their design.
The design possibilities are only restricted by accessibility and efficiency standards governing bus stops and any points on urban design in Miami's city plans.
This proposal does not include a detailed process for the development of parklets, but officials working for the City of San Francisco and AC Transit can be consulted for their experience with this type of project.