Clayton Parklet Succeeds and Fails, Points the Way Forward

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Parklet - Clayton, MO

In July of last year, we were the first to write about plans for a Parklet in Clayton. I championed the idea as a start to chip away at the wide Clayton streets that prioritize getting cars in and out as quickly as possible.

A year later the parklet is in. So what do we think? The project absolutely succeeds in showing what’s possible, and points the way forward to better street treatments throughout Clayton. It also falls short in several very important measures.

Clayton needs to address its streetscapes. The city has a great urban form, good transit access, and is relatively dense. Yet the pedestrian experience is fairly miserable. Four and five-lane streets dominate. Sidewalks are narrow and nondescript. Even on nights when bars and restaurants are packed, the sidewalks are empty.

As we’ve observed, even Clayton’s best commercial and pedestrian streets leave a lot to be desired. The city understands this and has developed a long term plan for improvements, including the Central Avenue Activation Plan codified this past February. The 8ft x 20ft three-season parklet, designed to be movable for winter or special events, is the first trial step for that plan.

Parklet - Clayton, MO

The parklet is a good solution in many ways. Occupying just two street parking spaces, the parklet brings visual interest to the street for pedestrians and passing cars, it creates a place in lieu of a parking space. The parklet widens the public realm, giving more space to people who wish to linger, socialize and experience the city.

More parklets should be placed on Clayton streets. A number of places along North Central, Maryland, and Forsyth would be great. While not cheap, the parklets are substantially cheaper than a full street narrowing project, though they should be used as an aide to determine which streets should be narrowed in the future.

Parklet - Clayton, MO

While the experiment should be supported and expanded, there are shortcomings. The most significant problem is that the parklet is too closely attached to Barcelona. Those I’ve spoken to didn’t realize it was a public park, but assumed it to be a new Barcelona patio. The parklet design doesn’t distinguish it as a separate space, and the chairs and tables yell restaurant to passersby. In effect, it’s not a public park, it’s more seating for a restaurant.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Several restaurants in Clayton (and elsewhere around St. Louis), would be smart to have a “parklet” designed and built as an extension of patio dining. In fact, this works well in the St. Louis City’s Central West End. Dressel’s has long had a temporary curbside patio, and Brasserie/Taste used a temporary patio before making it permanent. If a restaurant wishes to pay for the parklet, it should be considered.

Parklets succeed in some places because they offer a unique, visually interesting interruption to the streetscape, often bringing communal space to an area which has little. Certainly better public space is needed in Clayton, but whether there’s demand for such space that parklets provide (beyond expanded sidewalk dining) is unclear.

Clayton gets the parklet concept correct in its Central Avenue Activation Plan, but the execution of the first effort leaves something to be desired. Schematics also show parklets with adjacent parking, removing a traffic lane from each direction.

Parklet - Clayton, MO

Clayton is considering more parklets and we’re told several restaurants have expressed an interest in having one installed at their doorstep. There’s some consideration as to whether an adjacent restaurant to pay for the parklet, or possibly lease it from the city, while it would (technically) remain a public park.

Any publicly supported parklets in the future should be designed with varied, interesting, and accommodating seating, which is different, and more than a restaurant extension (see examples below). But if restaurants are excited about more seating, may I suggest Half & Half or Pastaria/Niche in Clayton, and SubZero in the city’s CWE call “next”?

Central West End parklets - St. Louis, MO{Brasserie/Taste used a temporary patio (above) before installing a permanent solution (below)}Parklet

Central West End parklets - St. Louis, MO{Dressel’s curbside patio in the city’s Central West End}

Examples of more park-like parklets:

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  • Hugh Scott

    Great ideas. Restaurants should pay for adjoining parklets. Clear pathways should be maintained and ADA compliance is essential.

  • For the Clayton example, it ultimately comes down to whether the business is, in fact, using that as additional seating space — are they directly serving food/alcohol there to customers? if so, that’s a no-no and they should be fined for serving outside their approved sidewalk cafe footprint permit. Or, alternatively, create a second permit wherein a business can produce and use a parklet for commercial purposes (this would be a good idea to consider for businesses with slim sidewalks/rights of way), but only after paying a fee and taking on any liability.

    I definitely think parklets — in their true use as publicly accessible space — have value, though I think that’s more for the conversations they start than the quality/service they provide.

  • STLEnginerd

    I think the parklet makes sense in areas without restaurants. For instance areas with more office or clothing retailers or offices. For areas with restaurants the extension of patio seating should be granted on a by permit basis at the request of the restaurant, but trying to call it a parklet is kind of silly. It serves a higher purpose as restaurant space from a tax revenue perspective.

    Euclid however doesn’t have a lane of traffic to eliminate but I favor the street parking be eliminated for those two blocks in favor of wider sidewalks anyway, because of the issues noted here by others.

    Also we here Bump outs mentioned often for there traffic calming effects. Parklets as Bump outs on corner is a nice duel use of space.

  • Larry Guinn

    I’m all for this sort of sidewalk use, but I would caution on the overuse of such things. I live in the Central West End, near Maryland and Euclid. There are about a dozen businesses at this intersection that use the sidewalk. They are making good use of the space, but disrespect the agreement in not keeping a four-foot wide pathway for pedestrian use. In fact, there is often less than a foot-wide passage or the sidewalk is totally blocked. The alderman was questioned about how to handle this, and she said I should take it up with the business directly. That does make it hard to be one of a few that badger the business to abide by the agreement they committed to keep.

    • Wow, 4-ft is the minimum?! I figured 6-ft was standard across the board…

      Though looking at the City’s Sidewalk Cafe application now, I can see why the alderman claims no control over the situation.

      City of St. Louis Sidewalk Cafe Application: http://bit.ly/1TTkEjR
      City of Chicago Sidewalk Cafe Application: http://bit.ly/1PzwTMp

      If I were an alderman, I’d certainly want control of this process — and put a good amount of pressure on the chambers/n’hood assc to review guidelines/footprint with businesses as well.

      • Larry Guinn

        You’ve compared a simple application form from the city of Saint Louis to a full brochure for the City of Chicago. Why?

        • Alex Ihnen

          I’d imagine that each is the full amount of information available in each city. I don’t know that I’ve seen anything more in St. Louis.

        • As a business looking to secure a sidewalk cafe permit, each of those links represents the materials publicly available to begin that process.

          Which do you think represents a stronger point of entry for that potential business? Which do you think is more likely to produce misunderstandings/issues down the road?

          Most importantly, which gives that business owner more faith that the City in which he/she has opened shop is a worthwhile and supportive partner in his/her success?

          • Larry Guinn

            Those two links do not represent the same thing. One is informational, the other is a simple application. That’s the point I was making. You assume the process to education and application is the same in both cities.

          • Alex Ihnen

            I though that was the point. One city provides real information, one doesn’t.

          • No, those ARE the applications for each. One page for the City of St. Louis, three for the City of Chicago (pg. 6-10, preceded by an application checklist).

            The City of Chicago just goes the extra mile by providing an introduction, sample footprints and relevant laws/codes/ordinances re: sidewalk cafes. This is all in the interest of simplifying the process (yes, more paperwork CAN make things simpler), supporting business growth and avoiding future issues, both for the business and the general public.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Seems like a straightforward point you’ve made.

  • Thomas R Shrout Jr

    Need to be careful that ADA compliance is upheld. Some “parklets” in the CWE encroach too much on the sidewalk. It is more of a matter of restaurants managing the space than the idea.