U District Parklet

Push for public space continues with parklet proposal by Joe Veyera

The Daily - Push for public space continues with parklet proposal

by Joe Veyera - April 7, 2014

On average, a 40-foot long by 6-foot wide span of pavement is large enough to fit approximately two normal parking spaces. Now, a group of U-District residents and merchants are looking to transform a space that size at Northeast 43rd Street and the Ave as part of their push for more public space in the neighborhood.

Late last month, the site was chosen by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) as one of 10 new “parklet” locations as an extension of the city’s Pilot Parklet Program. The program, which launched in 2013 with the opening of a parklet outside the Montana Bar on Capitol Hill, gives local businesses or community organizations the opportunity to convert parking spaces into privately-funded and maintained public spaces.

“This is something that really is a community-driven project and will be a community asset, and we’re really excited that the University District is part of it this year,” said Jennifer Wieland, program manager for SDOT’s public space management program.

The extension comes as SDOT looks at parklets in a range of neighborhoods and conditions and prepares to make recommendations on a permanent program.

U-District project organizer Cory Crocker said the site is the perfect location for a parklet because of its proximity to the Ave and nearby restaurants and cafes, as well as the street’s closure during Sound Transit light-rail construction.

“That’s our site, beside our main thoroughfare, the Ave,” Crocker said. “Outside of Downtown and Capitol Hill, it is the densest part of the city. We’re like a mini-downtown, so we have the pedestrian traffic, the bike traffic, and the transit traffic that people need for this [parklet] to work.”

Wieland also noted the mix of surrounding businesses as a key benefit to the parklet’s location.

“There’s such a nice mix of businesses right there on 43rd and also on University, that it seems like there were going to be a lot of opportunities for people to take advantage of what the businesses were offering and also use that little bit of additional public open space,” Wieland said.

Jordan Lewis, a UW graduate student, is one of three UW architecture students currently working on the design of the parklet. He said the space is particularly well-positioned between the light-rail station and the Ave.

“The Ave is so lively,” Lewis said. “Right now if you walk up and down the Ave, there’s very few places for people to sit, the sidewalks are really narrow, and there’s very few places for cafes to put out outdoor seating, so part of it’s about just creating better spaces for people to really enjoy the Ave.”

Lois Ko, owner of the Häagen-Dazs at 4301 University Way NE, said nearby businesses have been adversely affected by the light rail construction, and the hope is the new parklet will help draw in pedestrian traffic.

“I think the greenery and the change of scene will hopefully bring more pedestrians into our area,” said Ko, who said her business saw 500 fewer customers in February than it did in January. “I felt the need for it before too, because a lot of people would just wander into my shop and they would sit and be like, ‘Okay, I’ll just sit here, I’m waiting for a friend,’ and of course they can, but I felt that there needs to be kind of a non-business meeting space for people who want to meet people off campus.”

However, there are still several steps left before the proposed parklet becomes a reality. The site’s environmental analysis is currently being conducted by the city, and in the coming weeks, the group will launch a Kickstarter campaign through www.udistrictsquare.com with a goal of $15,000 to fund construction and have the city review their design drawings before they’re presented for public comment. The group hopes to have final approval from the city by June, with a tentative launch date of June 21.

Ko said both she and her neighbors have had concerns about the local homeless population taking over the spot, but that the positives outweigh the potential negatives.

Crocker said the parklet is an opportunity to test the waters with more public space in the area, with the opportunity to renew the space yearly, but that it will require the community’s support to be successful.

“It’s an experiment, to try it out, and see if we like public space,” Crocker said. “If you think public space is important to your neighborhood, for the kinds of activities you want to do, for the kind of democracy you want; it’s important for you to come out, show your support, and go to the space once it’s built.”

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Reach News Editor Joe Veyera at news@dailyuw.comTwitter: @JosephVeyera