Reclaiming a little bit of street

Does this sound at all familar?

Most streets were multilane one-way thoroughfares, and many curbs had sacrificed their parallel parking for additional travel lanes. Bicycle facilities were nonexistent, and traffic sped too fast for bikes to share the road — or for pedestrians to feel comfortable on sidewalks — as oversized lanes encouraged highway speeds. Street trees were in short supply, and most intersections had overlong turning lanes, further discomfiting pedestrians.

Yep. Downtown Oklahoma City, prior to Project 180, which is now being trimmed back a bit due to cost overruns. (For an overview, see Planning, the magazine of the American Planning Association, May/June ’11; the Jeff Speck article excerpted here is available as a PDF.)

The cost issues suggest that smaller-scale makeovers might be in order, and Nancy Friedman’s Word of the Week seems to have arrived at precisely the right time:

Parklet: A small city park created by replacing one or two parking spaces, or an unused bus stop, with a platform on which planters and other amenities are installed. The parklet is publicly sanctioned but constructed and maintained with private funds.

If your reaction is “What? Give up parking spaces?” you should know that the birthplace of the parklet, San Francisco, is legendarily short of parking, but they’re going ahead with the concept, with the proviso that these little intrusions into the asphalt are still considered experimental:

Technically temporary, they’re designed to slip through city bureaucracy. Permits last one year, at which point the parklet is reevaluated at a public hearing. “It’s representative of a new kind of city planning: full-scale prototypes and iterative, changeable design,” says Matthew Passmore of the firm Rebar, which has designed and built three parklets so far.

And if there’s one concept we’re trying to learn in downtown OKC, it’s how to work variations on the “standard” urban themes. A parklet or two will elicit smiles from our growing number of pedestrians, and will probably annoy a couple of people who have to walk another whole quarter of a block to park. Were I in the Urban Redevelopment division, I think I’d like those odds.

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