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USA Today: 'Parklets' popping up in cities nationwide thanks to student creativity, innovation
Author: Kyle Plantz
Posted: August 26, 2014

Read the original story in the USA Today College Edition

About 20 food carts parked on the sidewalk of Fourth Avenue near Portland State University in Oregon attracts hundreds of hungry people from campus and downtown each day during lunch time.

Since the immediate area lacks chairs or tables, patrons must take their lunch to enjoy elsewhere.

Liz Hormann, South of Market EcoDistrict project coordinator and masters candidate of public administration at PSU, says she wants to create “a central space for people to sit and be engaged with the community around them.”

Hormann is just one of the several college students and professors around the United States who are working on the plans, design and construction of “parklets” in urban centers.

Parklets, or small, community public parks, typically with tables, seating and greenery, are built in the place of one or two parking spots. The trend started in 2005, when a design company in San Francisco created a small park in a metered parking spot, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials website. It was known as Park(ing) Day and became an annual event (the third Friday in September). San Francisco created its first permanent parklet in March 2010.

In the past year, several other cities have joined the parklet craze including, Portland, Ore., Montpelier, Vt., Boston and Raleigh, N.C.

In order to build a parklet, interested parties usually need to submit a design to city officials for approval followed by a public comment period for community members to weigh in on the design, Hormann says. After revising the plan then, city officials need to approve it one more time before issuing a permit to build the parklet. 

Throughout this process, funds are raised for materials to build the structure, which are usually out of wood, or recycled and donated goods. Come installation day, volunteers are ready to construct and install the parklet, she says.

“If we can fit 20 to 30 people with chairs and tables where two parking spots would normally be, it would be a nice use of space and … we’re always looking for ways to create a community space in the developed areas that we have around us,” Hormann says.

She says when the project started in fall 2013, the SoMa EcoDistrict worked with a PSU architecture class to develop designs for the area.

“For college students, it’s actually something they want to work on,” she says. “They have the freedom and ingenuity to come up with these ideas.”

Professors, community members and college students install the parklet in Montpelier, Vt. in May. (Photo by Kyle Plantz) Share this image:

Professors, community members and college students install the parklet in Montpelier, Vt. in May. (Photo by Ward Joyce)

They are currently raising funds for the project and Hormann says she hopes construction will begin by mid-October.

On the other side of the country, Ward Joyce, an assistant professor at Vermont Technical College, had his design class develop plans for a public parklet in Montpelier, Vt.

“This is a perfect, small architectural project for them to start on and they can walk away with a lot of pride that they built something real that benefitted the community,” he says.

The parklet was built in mid-May and will be taken down in October before cold weather hits, Joyce says.

In Boston, Wihelmina Peragine, director of The Parkolation Project and a teaching fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Education, installed a public parklet in front of a local restaurant on June 25 with the help of 78 volunteers.

Not only did Peragine work with college students from Boston Architectural College and Harvard’s Graduate Schools of Education and Design, but also with high school students from Boston Green Academy through VSA Massachusetts, a non-profit focused on the arts and students with disabilities.

“The college students took the ideas the high school students had and brought them down to earth,” she says. “The older students didn’t sign up to be mentors, but they all became them for the younger students.”

Bob Massengale and Tyner Tew, both masters candidates for landscape architecture at North Caroline State University, are spearheading the project to build a public parklet in downtown Raleigh, N.C.

Tew was a teaching assistant for a construction design course this summer where he talked to the professor about using the parklet as a project for the class. Tew and Massengale incorporated some of the students’ designs in their final application to the city, which they submitted on Friday.

“The city is their [the students] laboratory,” Tew says. “As a student, you are allowed to experiment more and push to see what can be done in the real world.”

Massengale echoed Tew in that colleges foster the progressive mindset of students to get them to try new ideas.

“With students, you have more people who are curious, with not as much experience, but who are willing to try things and get feedback,” Massengale says. “It’s a perfect forum for them to be innovative.”