From Los Angeles to Chicago, city governments across the nation have been following San Francisco’s early lead and popping up parklets on their streets, mini sidewalk-side public parks for rest, small group gatherings, and people watching.
This summer, Boston joined in on the trend, installing its first parklet in Mission Hill in September and another in Jamaica Plain at Hyde Square. While these spaces have seen success in other cities, the Boston Globe reported that the Boston parklets have shown disappointing usage during what should have been their prime season.
Although no scientific surveys have been collected, observations from nearby business owners, community members, and the Globe staff have indicated that these new whimsical spaces in Boston are not seeing much traffic. Boston Transportation Department planning director Vineet Gupta admitted that the city government was expecting a lot more of a parklet embrace from the community, but assured that the low usage during this fall’s debut is only a side effect of the newness of the streetscape change. Each parklet cost around $15,000 to $25,000.
“This is true for parklets; it’s true for bike lanes; it’s true for bus lanes—it’s true for any innovation in the transportation world,” Gupta told the Globe. “Initially, you don’t see the kind of use that one would hope, but things pick up.”
However, Boston officials are now wondering whether they should go back to the drawing board on the design and placement of these small public spaces. In San Francisco, a parklet’s success often depends on the community’s need for public seating and the site’s distance from a full-scale park or public plaza. In Chicago, some parklets have been planted with water retaining vegetation and installed in flood zones, creating a dual community benefit. Even elsewhere in Massachusetts, a Lexington parklet was first created as a bike corral to gauge public opinion.
Gupta commented that the Transportation Department plans to conduct official public surveys next year for solutions to increase Boston parklet popularity. “In many instances from around the country, it’s a little bit of a learning process, and each location is unique,” he said. “We’re learning and we’re going to make modifications if necessary.”