CommUNITY Station: Thinking Beyond the Parklet

by Miguel A. Vazquez and Lisa Beyer, ASLA

commUNITY station: Connecting People and Place, sponsored by The Riverside University Public Health System-Public Health and Alta Planning and Design / image: Miguel Vazquez

For the past few years, the Local Government Commission (LGC) has partnered with the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and other organizations to showcase the great potential of parklets as public spaces during annual New Partners for Smart Growth (NPSG) Conferences. This year, during the conference in San Francisco, various organizations participated in the Parklet program. Our team, representing Riverside University Health System-Public Health (RUHS-PH) and Alta Planning+Design (AP+D), collaborated on the design and creation of a public space we called CommUNITY Station.

Our aim was to raise awareness about the potential application of parklets as transit stops in areas where bus stops lack basic amenities like seating, shade, and lighting, inspired by a group of high school students from rural eastern Coachella Valley who identified bus stops as opportunities to improve the pedestrian and transit environments. The commUNITY station was an opportunity to think beyond the traditional transit stop design. Innovation in materials, cost effectiveness, design and feel while maintaining the basic standards that protect the health, safety and welfare of transit users were some of the points of conversation and potential for future collaboration among the NPSG conference attendees.

Working on this project was an adventure in itself. The whole idea of collaborating on this opportunity happened during a conversation at a taco shop between Chris Saleeba (AP+D) and Miguel Vazquez (RUHS-PH) after presenting at a session during ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo. Subsequently, Chris brought in Lisa Beyer (AP+D) since she is based in San Francisco where the 2018 NPSG Conference was to take place. Since we did not have an official budget we had to improvise, ask friends for help and use all of our creativity. The outcome was vastly rewarding. We were able to convey some key aspects of what these public spaces could offer such as shade, street furniture, lighting, and signage. The most important aspect however, was the power of how simple attention to color, texture, shape, height and overall layout, could actually make a public space more inviting and even inspiring.

A special feature included two interactive maps where people could place a pin indicating where they were coming from to the conference and their mode of transport and also to indicate local spots near the conference center they recommended to others. At a glance, we found that people came to NPSG conference all the way from Australia, and most attendees were from California. Another board allowed participants to think about the power of active transportation by sharing their travel mode and ponder about how much energy excreted while getting from point A to point B, the cost, and time spent.

This parklet project was inspired by the student work in rural eastern Coachella Valley, who in 2014 began a “from the ground-up” community-driven transformation project as part of the Building Healthy Communities, with a goal of providing a shade structure and resting outdoor furniture at all Eastern Coachella Valley bus stops to improve public health and quality of life. Through the Building Healthy Communities grant from The California Endowment, the Land Use Planning Awareness project and the Women’s Policy Institute, various health advocates continue to work with the local transit agency to find innovative ways to provide amenities in all eastern Coachella Valley bus stops.

by Miguel A. Vazquez and Lisa Beyer, ASLA

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