The renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs once wrote that well-located parks can “give back grace and delight to their neighborhoods.” But not all parks are created equal, and Jacobs wouldn’t have been impressed with Boston’s inaugural experiment with converting parking spots into “parklets” in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill.
Parklets are supposed to bring a sense of whimsy and spontaneity to a city, but despite a reported investment of $15,000 to $25,000 per parklet, the spaces have found few users in Boston. They may be too close to traditional parks, or too oddly designed. In Jamaica Plain, the arching benches in one parklet offer more adventure to skateboarders than comfort for a conversation. Vineet Gupta, the Boston Transportation Department’s planning director, told the Globe he hopes usage of the parklets picks up next spring.
But before rolling them back out again, the city should study San Francisco, where John King, the San Francisco Chronicle’s urban design critic and a former Globe reporter, says there are now about 50 or so parklets. King said what matters most is whether a parklet is serving a pent-up need. The design can vary; parklets can be as basic as a plot with artificial turf, as elaborate as spots with rocking chairs and play areas for children, or as utilitarian as rows of tables and chairs for bustling restaurants. And what defines successful usage is not so much the number of users at any particular moment as whether the parklet attracts a flow of users over time.
Boston, one of America’s most walkable cities, seems like a natural for parklets, and not all experiments work out well on the first try. But Boston planners should settle in for some homework, rather than keeping the same parklets in the same locations.