SF converts parking spaces into mini parks

February 25, 2010 6:41:50 PM PST
If you're old enough, you may remember Joni Mitchell's 60's anthem, lamenting how "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot." Well, in San Francisco they are doing the opposite. Mayor Gavin Newsom has initiated a program called Pavement to Parks where some streets, parking spaces and public right-of-ways are being transformed into tiny pedestrian plazas and parklets.

The city's newest mini-plaza at Showplace Triangle is nothing grand, but city officials don't think it necessarily needs to be.

"Parks don't have to be like Golden Gate Park," San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell said. "They just need to be green and a place where people are comfortable and they can gather."

Mayor Gavin Newsom says 25 percent of San Francisco's land area is made up of asphalt. He is part of a nationwide movement to soothe the urban environment.

"Who said that every single street that's paved has to be a street that has a priority exclusively for automobiles?" Newsom said. "Who decided that?"

Newsom says the open spaces will be in place for a trial period while traffic flow and public reaction is reviewed.

Showplace Triangle actually opened in the fall but was officially dedicated Thursday. The site takes over a street and parking and uses surplus terra-cotta piping to provide a buffer from cars. Slabs of surplus granite are seating areas. On one side of the new plaza, Axis Café welcomes the change, and so are several folks lounging outside.

"It encourages people to come together, hang out, it creates a space," Oxsana Bobarykin of Axis Café said.

But on the other side, literally and figuratively, Wolfe's Café says the loss of parking has meant a loss of business.

"A lot of locals don't come in anymore because of the fact that there's no parking around and in the local area," Edward Yun of Wolfe's Café said.

Right now the projects are temporary but could become permanent including a so-called parklet in the Mission that also opened Thursday. Old logs from Golden Gate Park are used as planters and ventilation pipes have been repurposed.

A tiny plaza in the city's Castro neighborhood was the first to open last May, and it quickly became so popular the mayor decided the city just had to have more.

The mayor says 12 more of these Pavement to Parks locations are planned throughout the city this year. They carry an inexpensive price tag of about $7,000, paid for with private donations, and using recycled materials.

During the trial period city officials will assess traffic flow, crime and cleanliness. If there is enough community support, those temporary locations could become permanent.