This February in Denver, CO, the New Partners for Smart Growth conference hosted a unique set of communal spaces. Parklets 2.0 was the second annual initiative to bring the urban green space movement indoors. Parklets are parking space-sized areas used for recreational or beautification purposes. These small urban parks are created by replacing a parking spot with sod, planters, trees, benches, café tables and chairs—even artwork or bicycle parking. They are designed to provide urban green space and to bring awareness to the quantity of community space that is devoted to parking rather than creating vibrant communal spaces.
Four parklet installations spanned the communal spaces outside conference session rooms. Each space offered a unique twist on community space, but all offered areas for attendees to congregate, relax, interact, and learn about the importance of urban community spaces.
Parklets evolved from an annual event where citizens, artists, and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. Conceived in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, PARK(ing) transformed an ordinary metered parking spot in downtown San Francisco into a temporary public park—at least until the meter ran out. Following the success of the first intervention with sod and a few benches, Park(ing) Day has grown into a global movement.
Led by ASLA, the Local Government Commission (LGC), EPA, and the U.S. Forest Service, New Partners once again included several intriguing indoor parklet experiences. These interactive spaces showcased how a parklet can transform an under-utilized parking space (or two) into exciting opportunities for creating more vibrant spaces in your community. This year, the parklets at the New Partners conference were sponsored by local organizations involved in designing and advocating for urban green space in the Denver area.
The Re-Adapted Gallery
Designed by UC Denver landscape architecture students, and led by members of their ASLA Student Chapter, this parklet originally spanned two parking spots on 14th Street as a 2013 Park(ing) Day installation. This space uses a metal conduit pipe framework to support pieces of art on three walls. The art, also by UC Denver students, is created from various found and recycled materials. The art installation at the New Partners conference included tires stacked and manipulated to convey a path and create a private space for attendees to gather and network.
A Gathering Place
Sponsored by PlaceMatters, this parklet created a relaxed space that evoked a comfortable outdoor café. A light-lined path, donated by Alliance Outdoor Lighting and Ally Sales, guided attendees to the private corner of the foyer. Various brightly colored tables, chairs, and a large hanging umbrella, donated by Streetscapes and Tournesol Siteworks, provided networking and social spaces for attendees. Large colorful planters and a green wall, filled with plants donated by the Denver Botanic Gardens, reminded attendees that there are opportunities for green everywhere. In addition to this social space, attendees could learn about cutting-edge smart growth tools and technology in this parklet by playing on a touch-table to explore the Pedestrian Data Collection Tool, which PlaceMatters developed in partnership with WalkDenver.
This parklet, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and Yonder, featured a large backdrop of the Colorado mountains and forests. Highlighting National Get Outdoors Day—which encourages healthy, active outdoor fun and raises awareness about overcoming the trends that keep too many Americans indoors and sedentary. There were outdoor sports equipment that attendees could try out during their breaks, such as snowboards, fishing poles, and hula hoops. Seating around the space and various taxidermy critters allowed attendees to relax and feel as though they were in the Coloradan wilderness. Special appearances by Smokey the Bear were excellent for photo opps!
A Place to Play
Too often play takes a back seat to many other forms of socialization in our society, though it is when we play that our most honest and unfettered selves are let loose. Design Concepts and DesignScapes Colorado collaborated to produce a parklet with a focus on play. The space reflected a microcosm of a park playground, including climbing, jumping, imagination, and sound. A natural cascade of large boulders created a space to climb or sit and was surrounded by a hopscotch grid that made noise when jumping on the squares. Interspersed amongst the rocks were plants and a few animals to ignite the imagination. This space provided cross-generation appeal as well as a place to pause and relax between sessions.
by Deborah Steinberg, ASLA, LEED AP, Professional Practice Manager at ASLA