A new phenomenon hit the streets of Huntington Park this year. It’s a space where people can catch up on their reading and feed their coffee cravings, a space where family and friends can gather together, and a space where business deals can take place right next to kids playing dominos. It’s called a parklet.
Parklets are parking spaces converted into sidewalk mini-parks. They primarily offer seating areas, also often greenery and bicycle parking. They foster lively pedestrian-oriented streets. For the unfamiliar, view a SF parket in this StreetFilms documentary.
Also, for the unfamiliar, the city of Huntington Park is located in Southeast Los Angeles County. The city has a population of roughly 60,000, more than 95% Latino.
The new parklet in Huntington Park is quite a wonderful scene. It features comfortable sitting areas and potted plants surrounded by aesthetically pleasing wooden tiles. And it is well-sited, located in front of one of the city’s most frequented coffee shops: Tierra Mia, a specialty Latin American coffee shop, located at 6706 Pacific Boulevard.
As I enjoyed my coffee that was sustainably harvested from a small finca (agricultural estate) in the Guatemalan highlands, I watched a young family with loud and happy children eating a takeout lunch, a pair of friends enjoying a fancy-looking latte, and a speech therapy session in progress, all taking place in the small public parklet. Taking up only three diagonal parking spaces on the bustling boulevard, the parklet is the perfect size to feel both large enough to relax and breathe, but petite enough not to take up too much room on the busy street.
According to Fernanda Palacios, Huntington Park’s Community Development Project Manager, the parklet is park of the city’s Pacific Blvd. Revitalization Plan, designed to bring more activity to the city’s most prominent thoroughfare. Pacific Boulevard is a former streetcar corridor, and has retained much of its historic Main-Street-type commercial character. The street is dotted with restaurants, clothing stores, and specialty cultural shops. The Boulevard hosts a popular Christmas Lane Parade.
As part of the revitalization plan, the city has set aside a $60,000 budget for parklet development. These funds are from grants directly funded by Measure R and the Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The city’s funding goes to four parklets, each budgeted at $15,000 for construction and maintenance. According to Palacios, the city government does not fund the parklet with any of its own money, but it does contribute its own Public Works department’s labor to construct the site.
The $15,000 in grant money is used to purchase furniture and raw materials, in addition to touch-ups as the parklets age. With regard to collision safety, the parklet is surrounded by well-hidden K-rails (the same concrete barriers used to divide freeways) that are covered with wooden planters. In fact, I would have had no idea that the K-rails were there within the wooden planters had Ms. Palacios not pointed them out. Because the street space is owned by the city, no special permits or zoning variances were needed for parklet development.
Palacios explained that the site was chosen because of the coffee shop’s high popularity with the city’s youth, as well as its extended evening hours. After proposing the location, the city approached Tierra Mia and after the coffee shop was “very excited” to be selected, as the parklet essentially expanded its open-air seating space. Tierra Mia agreed to maintain the space and to bring in the parklet’s outdoor furniture after closing. According to Palacios, the re-designation of the three parking spaces has not posed any significant difficulty to automobile parking in the area.
Ricardo San Juan-Barrios, Tierra Mia’s manager, has found that the business has gained more customers since the parklet’s opening and that there is an increase in the space’s use when the temperatures are mild. This has prompted the city to explore the purchase of all-weather umbrellas to protect parklet-goers from the Southern California sun. According to San Juan-Barrios, spray-paint graffiti has been an issue only once, but it was immediately removed by the restaurant. Unfortunately, carvings in the wooden structure cannot be remedied as easily, and, so, have become a growing problem for the parklet.
Overall, Mr. San Juan-Barrios has felt a positive impact since the parklet’s introduction, saying that it “brings a different appeal to the city and to the location, and it brings a sense of comfort to the community, which is now able to enjoy a different aspect of the city.”
With one popular parklet under its belt, the city recently began construction of a second parklet just down Pacific Boulevard, in front of Dino’s Chicken and Burgers. Ms. Palacios told me that Dino’s was equally as excited to receive its neighboring parklet, which is expected to open within the next few months.
Hopefully the success of these parklets in the relatively-small city of Huntington Park will inspire municipalities across Southern California, and even across the country and the world, to forego some parking in order to create spaces for pedestrians to enjoy.