3 portable parks set for Minneapolis this summer

  • Article by: Emma Nelson
  • Star Tribune
  • May 13, 2014 - 9:03 PM

This summer, plants, tables and chairs will sprout up in parking spaces around Minneapolis.

The city is following in the footsteps of cities including New York, San Francisco and Seattle and building parklets — small public spaces often built as temporary expansions of city sidewalks.

A $75,000 city pilot program will fund the parklets in the Third, Fifth and 10th wards. Sites were pinpointed in commercial areas that already have a lot of pedestrian traffic.

“We’re looking for bustling areas where people would like to congregate but don’t necessarily have the space and structures available,” said City Council Member Jacob Frey.

The parklet in Ward 10 will cover two parking spaces outside Gigi’s Cafe on 36th Street. Exact locations in the other two wards have yet to be determined. They’ll be installed in July or August and dismantled by the end of October, weather permitting.

Though the parklets will be dismantled for the winter, they won’t be discarded. Minneapolis pedestrian coordinator Mackenzie Turner said in the future, they’ll move around the city so other neighborhoods can have a chance to test drive them.

Turner said the full Minneapolis parklet program is planned to roll out in late fall. Lacy Shelby, the principal urban designer working on the pilot, said businesses, neighborhood groups and other community members will be able to apply for parklets. The spaces will vary in design; some may include public art, for example.

The prefabricated pilot parklets will be built adjacent to sidewalks and cover less than 200 square feet. Each will include native plants, movable tables and chairs and a modular hardwood deck, a design proven successful in other cities.

Nearby businesses will lose some parking space, Frey said, but will also get a free seating area, something he expects will be a particular boon to restaurants and coffee shops.

Turner said outreach to neighborhood organizations and businesses adjacent to the proposed parklet sites has been positive.

“Generally, everybody’s pretty excited about these,” she said.

The first parklet was built in San Francisco in 2010. Today the city is home to 45, with another 40 to 45 in the works.

These kinds of temporary, unexpected public spaces have a long history in San Francisco, including a makeshift park built beneath a freeway overpass in the 1970s.

Ilaria Salvadori, a San Francisco urban designer, said the city’s parklet program, like Minneapolis’, began with a few pilot installations. The full program rolled out soon after, she said, and has been a success.

“They become like centers for the community,” she said.

Frey said he thinks the parklet program fits with the increasingly widespread vision of Minneapolis as a pedestrian-friendly and community-oriented city.

“Is it going to change the world? No,” he said. “But it could change a small pocket of it.”

Emma Nelson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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