JESS MATHEWS, an organizer of The Columbus Parklet Project, recently sat down with Quorum Columbus to tell us about plans to build the first parklet in Columbus on South Fourth Street.
What is a parklet?
A parklet is a parking space that is converted into “people” space. It is a mini park. In the space, people can sit and enjoy this extension of the sidewalk. It’s appealing to people because all we think when we think of streets are cars and parking. Streets have been underutilized, only serving one purpose. A parklet helps people reimagine the potential of streets and parking spaces. They disrupt the uniformity of street design by creating a space for vibrancy and for people to enjoy.
San Francisco piloted the first parklet years ago. The city now has over 40 parking spaces converted into permanent parklets. When I visit San Francisco, my “to do” list always includes visit a parklet. The parklets there have become a destination for me. That’s what I want for Columbus.
Why does Columbus need them?
Like so many other cities, Columbus is ‘revitalizing’ itself. We’re finally taking note of the bigger picture and not just looking at what’s in front of us. It’s not a fad that people are walking more, biking more or wanting more outdoor gathering spaces. When you give people good places to gather, they’ll gather. People are choosing to live in places that have amenities close to them. It’s all about access and convenience to destinations.
Is The Columbus Parklet Project a standalone effort or part of a larger organization?
The pilot parklet—due to be unveiled in August—is on its own. However, the Columbus Parklet Project has visions of other parklets popping up in multiple neighborhoods, outside of businesses. We recently applied for a grant to expand the parklet project. Should the project be awarded funding, the financial sponsor of the grant will be Transit Columbus. The Columbus Parklet Project feels that Transit Columbus is a great fit.
What benefits do parklets provide to the community and to local business?
Parklets benefit the community because these “people” spaces are built by the community. Often such projects cost millions of dollars, and they take years with massive amounts of red tape. What’s great about a parklet is that you can go from concept to installation in less than a year. People can see and experience immediate results, which creates more of a personal and vested interest. Parklets add a new dynamic to the street. The space, if located in the right spot, becomes a destination.
The cost of a parklet can vary. We’re doing this with basically no money. The majority of our funds have to go toward bagging the meters and the parking space permit. On the Columbus Parklet Project Facebook page, I’ve posted parklet designs from other cities where thousands of dollars have been spent on the design, but it should be noted the majority of parklets happening in other cities are so successful that those cities are now budgeting capital funds to expand their parklet programs, which then becomes a public/private partnership. I’d love to have that type of partnership blossom here. The Greater Columbus Arts Council saw potential in the parklet and awarded us a small grant.
How was the parklet location selected?
The location for the first parklet will be outside of the Dirty Franks on Fourth Street. I received a lot of raised eyebrows and concern about how fast this street traffic is. This is exactly why I chose the street and wouldn’t back down. South Fourth Street and all the other arterial downtown streets currently serve one purpose: move cars in and move cars out. Our downtown will never succeed if we don’t change that mentality and the design of the streets. I also chose that block because those business owners took a chance on that location when many others did not, and now the block is always bustling with people hanging out outside. I knew it was the perfect location with the perfect audience. It also doesn’t hurt when you have complete support from all of the business owners on the block. They really get it and they understand the need to change the streetscape to place an emphasis on people first, and not the speeding cars.