SAN FRANCISCO—Ray Bair envisions a “garden oasis” outside his shop on Russian Hill. He sees a movie being shown there, or a place where music students from across the street can practice, or an open space for people to bring their dogs.
“We could do fun things there that could be very community oriented,” Bair said, like putting a projector on the table and showing movies on the side of his building. “We wouldn’t charge or anything like that, but just have movie night, and having people in the neighborhood come hang out.”
Bair is one of the many San Franciscans who has waited anxiously for the city to reopen applications for parklet permits. After a customer’s suggestion a year ago, Bair started looking into the process of obtaining a parklet permit, and has since gathered nearly 400 customer signatures in support of a parklet in front of his business, Cheese Plus.
“When you walk through a certain neighborhood, there’s just a certain place that seems like a natural place for a pause,” said John Joannides, a customer of Bair’s who lives on Polk Street. “I think it’s the perfect place.”
Bair has also gotten the approval of his immediate neighbors, the neighborhood association, and a number of nearby businesses. He’s thought a lot about the design, he says, with plans for a long bench, a watering station for dogs, a few tables, umbrellas for when the sun is too harsh, and a lot of landscaping.
“I think what is lacking in a lot of the parklets we see is landscaping,” Bair said. “I like the idea of using landscaping, using the natural elements to make the park look beautiful, and to create visibility … making it more vibrant and visible.”
San Francisco’s parklets have garnered worldwide attention and emulation since the launch of the project in 2010.
Residents or business owners supply the design, funding, and maintenance. City agencies like the Department of Public Works, Planning Commission, and Municipal Transportation Agency work with the parklet applicants to meet building code and safety requirements and approve designs.
Around 30 people applied the last round, but twice as many RSVP’d for the Planning Commission’s Open House March 5 to ask questions and get information on how to submit a parklet permit application.
“I know a lot of people have been waiting a really long time for us to reopen the application process, but we felt we needed to codify things and put it to paper, of how the process worked,” said Paul Chasan, parklet project manager.
The Planning Commission came out with new guidelines in the form of a Parklet Manual last month, including updates like accessibility requirements for all parklets.
Requests for proposals will be open until April 17, and though there are many guidelines, mostly safety requirements, the department is encouraging innovation and wants to see the property owners create something unique for their community, Pavement to Parks Program Manager Ilaria Salvadori said.
The most important aspect of this process is for the applicant, who would be a steward of the space, to do significant community outreach, the program managers stressed.
“They’re really places for people to know each other at a neighborhood scale, also to foster community interaction and strengthen commerce,” Salvadori said.
Chasan recommended that applicants work with experienced architects and builders once the applications are approved and to be aware of the timeframe of each stage. Once construction begins, the property owner has 30 days to finish building the parklet, and costs for these sorts of open spaces range from $10,000 to $20,000. Some applicants look into funding, but partnering with a nonprofit sponsor brings a different set of concerns that may not fit into the timeline.
Bair is prepared to pay for his parklet out of pocket. “We think it would be beneficial to the neighborhood, and there’s no doubt that putting a parklet in front of a business like mine has potential to provide further income,” he said.
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