Parklet: A small space serving as an extension of the sidewalk to provide amenities and green space for people using the street. It is typically the size of several parking spaces. Parklets typically extend out from the sidewalk at the level of the sidewalk to the width of the adjacent parking space.
Clayton, MO: The county seat of St. Louis County, MO. An affluent inner ring suburb of the City of St. Louis with nearly 16,000 residents and a residential density of 6,400 per square mile. The municipality’s Wikipedia page also states, “Clayton is a thriving cultural center. The downtown business district has many art galleries, boutiques and fine restaurants, and European-style outdoor cafes.”
It’s looks like someone in Clayton has been authoring Wikipedia entries. Anyway, Clayton is also a town that really values getting cars quickly into parking garages in the morning and quickly back onto surrounding highways at the end of the day. The vast majority of downtown streets to have four or five lanes of traffic, often with two parking lanes as well. Clayton knows this is problematic, but has done its best to ignore it.
So it’s interesting that Clayton recently gave the go ahead to Pinnacle Contracting and Tao + Lee Associates to build a parklet costing up to $39,500 on North Central Avenue. The city issued an RFP in June this year, receiving seven bids. Pinnacle will next submit three parklet design options and a final choice will be made by city staff in consultation with the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.
Parklets can be permanent, seasonal, or even temporary – in place for just days or hours. They’re primarily thought of as interventions to provide much needed public space in places where such areas are absent. Of course Clayton isn’t one of those areas. For better or (really) worse, Clayton has greenspace, public plazas, and benches aplenty. Sure, they could be designed better.
A couple examples of parklets elsewhere:
According to city documents, Studio One Eleven was the only firm with previous parklet design experience that applied. Travel expenses for the Long Beach, CA firm was cited by the city to pass them up. Others submitting applications were Core 10, Arcturis, Christner, Forum, and M2 Architectural Studio.
Established in 1998 and based in Clayton, Pinnacle has 15 employees and has completed previous work in Clayton at Simon Jewelers, Hill Investment, and Dowd Bennett LLP, according to the firm. Tao + Lee Associates, located in downtown St. Louis was founded in 1995 and has completed projects at Clayton’s BARcelona restaurant, several law firms, retail centers, and private residences.
According to Clayton, the parklet is intended to improve the character of city streets, and is being explored as a temporary intervention to improve the pedestrian experience, and as a prototype for possible future projects. If all goes according the plan, the parklet could be built and installed yet this summer. The parklet will be no larger than 7ft x 20ft and is to be first installed on North Central Avenue.
North Central Avenue itself, often considered the most active commercial and restaurant strip in Clayton, is too wide. The sidewalks are too narrow. Here, a parklet isn’t the best answer. Narrowing the street from four traffic lanes to two is needed and would not adversely impact traffic in a meaningful way.
Elsewhere, Clayton is allowing the removal of a number of pedestrian scale buildings that enhance the walking experience (while vacant, and surface parking lots persist). Mixed-use towers planned for Forsyth at North Central and Bonhomme at Meramec hold promise, but details of the pedestrian experience at each are unknown, and expectations aren’t particularly high.
The first parklet is credited to Rebar art and design studio, who unrolled sod, put a potted tree on top and fed the meter at a parking space in San Francisco in 2005. That city quickly recognized the appeal of tiny public spaces, or parklets, and launched a program four years later. San Francisco now has more than 80 parklets. The San Francisco parklet manual states they’re meant as “an economical solution to the need for increased public open space…publicly accessible and open to all.”
So does Clayton need a parklet(s)? There’s no real shortage of public space, but perhaps parklets could be a gateway to urbanism. While we know retail activity, street activity, and even residential demand, would increase if downtown Clayton were put on a road diet, that appears to be a step too far at this time.
Some cities, such as Portland, OR and Montreal, allow parklets to function as extended restaurant space. This could be a smart exercise for Clayton. Adding substantial outdoor dining space could free up sidewalks for pedestrians. In a metro area well known for outdoor dining, Clayton fails to impress. With luck, temporary structures will illustrate demand for more.
Although each site varies, several locations in St. Louis City’s Central West End have been either permanently or semi-permanently altered to create additional patio dining. The Delmar Loop long ago now reduced traffic lanes and widened sidewalks to give provide more public and commercial space. Those neighborhoods continue to be the most vibrant and lively in the region. Let’s hope Clayton is poised to follow.