Look down at the sidewalk. It’s yours, along with the land where people have parked their cars.
To the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), these marginal spaces are parks in the making.
SDOT is launching a pilot program to allow community groups and businesses to turn pieces of right-of-way, such as street parking spaces, into a small park, or “parklet.”
About 27 percent of all land in Seattle is public right-of-way. SDOT manages the land through a permitting process, said Jennifer Wieland, an SDOT program manager.
Businesses and community groups will be able to apply for a permit to turn public right-of-way into public areas similar to existing pocket parks — “bigger and greener, but the same sort of experience,” Wieland said.
Plants and seating would likely be included along with a buffer from traffic.
“It does actually create a decent amount of seating for people,” Wieland said, since two parking spaces give about 40 feet to work with.
Parklets must be designed and constructed so they can be removed, and the sponsor or proponent must apply for renewal of the permit each year. While not a permanent structure, a parklet must be constructed with quality materials, “so it could last at least for a few years,” Wieland said.
There are plans in the works for parklets in center city neighborhoods, Wieland said, though she could not yet say where, or how many, because proposals are still being finalized. The program is part of SDOT’s effort to consolidate management of public right-of-way and make better use of it.
The public notification process for parklets will be similar to the process SDOT uses for sidewalk cafes, with each sponsor posting a notice in the proposed location and providing a
14-day public comment period.
Program organizers are in the process of developing an implementation strategy for parklets and expect to make a presentation to the mayor and Seattle City Council in July. SDOT is planning to hold public events and a media launch to spread the word about parklets.
Though sponsored and maintained by businesses and community groups, parklets must be open to all.
“Every parklet will have a sign on it that says this is public space,” Wieland said.
In other cities, sponsors of parklets have sometimes needed that reminder.
“Some cities have run into problems where the parklet sponsor has tried to move people out,” Wieland said. “They’ve had to go back to the parklet sponsor, and say look, you can’t do that.”
Such conflicts can be avoided, Wieland said, by educating sponsors and actively managing the space.
“Part of designing a great space is that you’ll have a lot of people who want to use it,” Wieland said. “As long we have a mix of all different kinds of people who are comfortable, it’s going to be a success.”
For questions about SDOT’s parklets pilot program, Wieland can be reached at 206.733.9970.