Parklets: Turning parking spots into community spaces

SEATTLE -- On the corner of 15th and East Harrison, a blustery fall day doesn't stop business for the Parfait Ice Cream truck.

It's been at this spot almost every Friday since late April when the old firehouse parking lot became an urban oasis.

"I think it was a sense of delightful surprise. It was a sunny day and people loved the coffee, loved the ice cream, loved being able to just sit and talk to their neighbors," said Roger Tucker. "It was just a wonderful event."

What was once just a one-day event could soon become a permanent fixture as the Emerald City explores options to add green to the asphalt jungle.

The idea, named a "parklet," permanently transforms existing parking spaces into community spaces, adding greenery and public seating. Parklets are currently in place in nearly 30 spots in San Francisco, and now Seattle is exploring the idea, said Rick Sheridan with the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Tucker's design firm, Environmental Works, hosted the pop-up park in April as part of a joint celebration for both the firm's 42nd anniversary and Earth Day. A landscape architecture firm helped design a space with outdoor seating, and a neighborhood coffee shop supplied beverages, he said.

"Anything to create community gathering space is something we'd be really supportive of," Tucker said. "I think my favorite thing is just bringing people together, and especially bringing people together in what used to be a spot that was dedicated to one vehicle."

However, not all Capitol Hill drivers want to give the idea the green light.

"I mean, I guess, what's the benefit for the business? They would have a park in front of their area?" asked Marta Helpenstell, as she paid for parking along the Pike-Pine corridor Friday night. "I like that concept, but I feel like Seattle does a pretty good job. I mean, Cal Anderson's right there, and Madison Park's up there, so it's like, if people want to go to those areas, they're there for them."

"First of all, I love more parks," said Ryan Smith, after parking his scooter nearby. "The other reason is, the less parking that's up here, I think the better public transportation will get and the more public transportation that's used, it's better for everyone."

For now, city officials would be interested in issuing permits for parklets if it can find communities and businesses that want them, Sheridan said.

"Green space, community space, people getting together is much more important than cars," added Tucker.