This February, in St. Louis, MO, the New Partners for Smart Growth (NPSG) conference hosted a unique set of spaces that have become a tradition of the conference. Parklets 5.0 was the fifth 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, children’s play areas, artwork, bicycle parking, and more!). Parklets evolved from an annual event where citizens, artists, and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces. Following the success of the first 2005 intervention, PARK(ing) Day has grown into a global movement. Be on the lookout later this year for information on Celebrating PARK(ing) Day with ASLA!
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, six parklet installations covered 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 and active play throughout the country.
Our trails and forests lead to great adventure and discovery, and with help from the Smart Growth community we hope to continue to protect and share them with our next generation of environmental stewards. Nature Explore Classrooms serve as gateways to connect even our youngest children with nature. We then encourage inspired families to ultimately visit our parks, trails, and national forests.
The parklet offered attendees the opportunity to build a fort from their childhood, play a musical instrument, and explore all the creative things you can do with natural items while discovering a connection to Mark Twain National Forest – rekindling a passion for these national treasures.
The rich, native forests around St. Louis – like those in and around your own community – hold tremendous value worth protecting. These landscapes define the places we call home. They call out to us to slow down and may stop us in our tracks and take our breath away. Research finds that trees improve the air we breathe and the water we drink; they cool us in summer and slow the winds of winter; and reduce our stress levels to such a degree that they may literally improve our productivity and save our lives. In particular, street trees are an integral part of the urban fabric and necessary for the creation of vibrant communities. This unique parklet showcased the importance of and challenges facing ash trees in St. Louis – 17% of the street tree population devastated by the emerald ash borer (EAB).
The local food movement aims to connect food producers and food consumers in the same geographic region in order to develop more self-reliant and resilient food networks; improve local economies; and have a positive impact on health and communities. With this in mind, the installation created a fun, informative, and nutritious parklet for guests to enjoy! The parklet featured a small greenhouse, examples of plants for eating and plants that attract pollinators, places to sit, and a bike equipped with a smoothie making apparatus (even Woodsy the Owl approved). Information regarding local food/placemaking movement and how pollinators play a large role in the urban environment was also provided for attendees.
Creating Energy and Excitement in PLAYces
sponsored by KaBOOM! and Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection
Energy is something that we use and create daily. When we take the opportunity to exert energy at public spaces like bus stops, health clinics, sidewalks, and streetscapes, we are able to transform places of potential frustration into moments of joy. While interacting in this PLAYce, ask yourself “How complete are our public spaces if we don’t use them to their full potential?” and “Is there a way to capture the energy we exude to power the things we need like cell phones and tablets?” This parklet installation demonstrated how innovative places that put kids first in public space design not only create sustainable, equitable cities that provide kids with opportunities to play, but also encourages design creativity using elements of energy, art, music, nature, and more.
There are many types of parklets…from temporary or pop-up parklets, to long-term installations, from seating to play structures and anything else you can imagine. The Learning Lab was a “parklet on parklets” that explored the different ways communities can repurpose a space mostly relegated to private vehicle storage to something that can help revitalize and humanize the streetscape. Attendees were able to learn about many of the creative uses of these spaces, and witness on-screen images and videos of inspiring parklets around North America. Sample materials for pop-up design was also provided for attendees to experiment with their different uses.
This parklet pondered what needs to happen to combine livable, healthy & sustainable community design with smart city technology and driverless vehicles.
The planning for Parklets 6.0 will be gearing up this summer for the 2018 New Partners for Smart Growth conference. If you would like to join the Parklets planning committee or want to sponsor a Parklet, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
by Shawn Balon, ASLA, Professional Practice Manager at ASLA