Last year Sao Paulo ran a little experiment as part of an environmentally themed week. They turned underused street parking spaces into mini-parks for the duration of the event. They reclaimed the space for pedestrians rather than cars, with benches and plants and bike racks. The ‘parklets’ were so popular that they are now going to become a permanent feature.
It’s part of a deliberate plan to make Sao Paulo more pedestrian-friendly, and the city has outlined some legal guidelines for the creation of parklets. Anyone will be able to put in a proposal to turn a parking spot into a park, provided they meet certain requirements, among them being the stipulation that they must always be public and free for anyone to use.
Parklets create little pockets of new public space, providing places to meet and greening the streets. They serve as a buffer between pedestrians and traffic, and put wasted urban space to good use. Importantly, they also send a signal about the city’s values. The geography of cities is usually prioritised to the needs of the car, and parklets are a way of saying that pedestrians matter too. The better the city works for pedestrians, the more people are likely to leave their cars at home and take the healthier and greener option.
The parklet was invented in San Francisco, where the ReBar group ran Park(ing) Day as a way of reclaiming parking spaces for the community. That morphed into a more permanent project, and SF now boasts dozens of mini-parks. (Their manual for creating them is a good place to find out more.)
Many of them have been set up by businesses that controlled the parking places. A parklet opposite a shop or cafe has proved a useful way of getting passers by to slow down and stop in, making them a potential tool in regeneration. How about it Luton Borough Council?