This February, in Portland, OR, the New Partners for Smart Growth (NPSG) conference hosted a unique set of communal spaces that have become a tradition of the conference. Parklets 4.0 was the fourth annual initiative to bring the urban green space movement indoors.
Parklets are parking space-sized areas used for recreational, community gathering, or beautification purposes that assist in bringing awareness to the quantity of community space that is devoted to parking rather than vibrant urban green space. These small urban parks are created by replacing a parking spot with a variety of elements (planters, trees, benches, café tables and chairs, artwork, bicycle parking, and more!). Parklets evolved from an annual event where citizens, artists, and activists collaborated to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. Following the success of the first 2005 intervention, Park(ing) Day has grown into a global movement. Now Parklets are being permanently installed in cities throughout the U.S.
Led by ASLA and the Local Government Commission (LGC), the Parklets project at NPSG, once again, included interactive spaces showcasing how a parklet can transform an under-utilized parking space (or two) into exciting opportunities for creating more vibrant spaces in communities. This year, five parklet installations spanned the area outside conference session rooms. The parklets were sponsored by local organizations and design firms involved in designing and advocating for urban green space throughout the country. Plant materials were graciously donated by J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
Urban Nature and Your Health: Take Two Trees and Call Me in the Morning!
Our urban forests can provide cleaner air, decreased stress and anxiety, cooler summertime temperatures, reduced stormwater outflows, increased property values, reduced crime rates, and more livable communities. Sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, this parklet offered the opportunity to learn about these and other benefits provided by urban trees. Maps were provided for local, self-guided walking tours and information about effective local volunteer groups that support urban and community trees.
Sponsored by Robert Ping and the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (WALC), this interactive and fun parklet featured the ability to give your own speeches and musical performances. The parklet included a stage with a microphone, speaker, and musical instruments for attendees to use (including acoustic guitars, small hand percussion, electronic keyboard, and a muted trumpet). A sign-up chalkboard was also provided to speak or play for 3 minutes at a time during conference breaks and other open times (giving all attendees a chance to give their “soon-to-be-TED-talk-famous” soapbox speech, show off their guitar-playing skills, sing a bicycle-themed song, play a dazzling egg-shaker solo, or just tell a story!).
Park Your Thoughts
A collaboration between Toole Design Group and the City of Portland’s Urban Design Studio, “Park Your Thoughts” created a platform for exploring ideas related to the design of cities, streets, and open space. Expressed through the Green Loop, an innovative linear park and pathway concept emerging from Portland’s proposed Central City 2035 plan, the designers invited attendees to share their thoughts on the connection between mobility, economy, and the environment by snapping a photo and using #ParkYourThoughts to share ideas and reflections with friends and colleagues.
Sponsored by PlaceMatters, this parklet brought various designs to engage diverse populations through tactical urbanism. Elements included a pop-up design for bikes and pedestrians teaching how they can be connected to the larger engagement process along with a demonstration on how to use QR codes to create a broader virtual community. In addition, an exercise on finding design solutions was presented by using only found objects with “City as Play,” a technique developed by James Rojas. An interactive screen was also provided to explore scenario planning and public engagement online.
Hosted by GreaterPlaces and DoTankDC, the parklet created a hangout dedicated to game design and game hacking for community development. Info was presented on how to develop games for civic engagement and produce a crowd sourced, placemaking game board, including a look at “Cards Against Urbanity.”
The planning for Parklets 5.0 will be gearing up this summer for the 2017 New Partners for Smart Growth conference to be held February 2-4, 2017 in St. Louis, MO. If you would like to join the Parklets planning committee or want to sponsor a Parklet, please contact Shawn Balon (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
by Shawn Balon, ASLA, Professional Practice Manager at ASLA