SF strives to meet demand for more parklets, plazas

S.F. Examiner file photoThe City has adopted policies calling for the annual creation of one plaza and 20 parklets

S.F. Examiner file photoThe City has adopted policies calling for the annual creation of one plaza and 20 parklets

After five years, San Francisco's Pavement to Parks program has created more than 50 parklets and plazas as well as numerous fans. Now, the program appears primed for expansion with more than 100 parklet applications expected this spring and a possible greater city investment.

Parklets have become a craze in San Francisco and in other cities around the world to help revitalize an area and improve safety. As the effort grows so too has the creativity around parklets, which insert greenery into former parking spaces.

A mobile parklet was created for the Ocean Avenue community benefits district that will be hosted outside different businesses. There is also a stage parklet that can be used for poetry readings and musical performances. Another has a bicycle focus, serving as a mobile bicycle corral. The parklet for Luna Rienne Gallery in the Mission is reinvented annually by an artist of its choosing.

<p> The program has also created six public plazas, including the first one of its kind — Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro.

Pedestrian-safety and bicyclist advocates see these parklets and plazas as improved street design, which can make the public safer.

“There is so much demand for this program. We get dozens of calls a week,” said Tyler Frisbee, a member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “The more that we can fund and support this program, the more we are going to respond to the needs and interests in the community.”

But with a rise in project proposals, The City doesn't seem to have the resources to handle the demand.

“We've been hearing from members of the public that staffing constraints in the departments have really slowed the process in terms of creating these new public spaces,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who called for Monday's Board of Supervisors land use committee hearing on the program.

Departments involved in the effort acknowledged there was a need to beef up staff and said they are working with the Mayor's Office for additional funding. The City has adopted policies calling for the creation of one plaza and 20 parklets annually.

There are two employees with the Planning Department as part of the program. The number of employees assigned in other departments such as the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was not available. The Planning Department was allocated $100,000 for two plaza projects this fiscal year, which covered only a portion of the expenses.

Robin Abad Ocubillo, parklet and research lead, said that the program started with cafes and restaurants seeking to create parklets, but nonprofits and institutions like art galleries and museums are taking an increased interest. Last year, The City adopted a program that allowed nonprofits to manage smaller plazas. Ocubillo said when the programs solicit requests for projects again this spring, he expects more than 100 applications.

“The demand for parklets is clearly very high,” Ocubillo said.

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