The cityâ€™s parklets guidebook [PDF], authored by Chasan and released in February, reads kind of revolutionary, at least so far as city infrastructure goes. With explicit goals of encouraging non-motorized transportation, eco-friendly design, and reshaping neighborhood interaction, these teeny parklets pack a big political punch.
â€œIn terms of changing the dialog about what the public realm can be, I think itâ€™s been really successful, both with the public and within the city bureaucracy itself,â€ says Chasan, who has headed up the program for two and a half years. â€œWhen you park your car on the street, youâ€™re essentially privatizing a public space. So when you turn it into something for everyone, it becomes a very literal metaphor.â€
Even when they take over that private parking spot, parklets still straddle an odd private-public line. Each one is sponsored and bankrolled by a local entity, most often a business, and can cost about $20,000-30,000 â€” a significant investment for what is truly a public space. Those parklets outside coffee shops and cafes may seem like an extension of the restaurant that ponied up that cash, but theyâ€™re really not. The city requires that parklets look and feel public and separate from the sponsoring business.
â€œSometimes people get upset if they feel like the parklet feels private, like it doesnâ€™t live up to the civic ideals of the program,â€ says Chasan. â€œLike â€˜This is supposed to be for everybody and it doesnâ€™t feel like itâ€™s for everybody.â€™ They should get upset about that if thatâ€™s the case.â€
One of my favourite places in Saskatoon was the deck at City Perk (I saw “was” because it is under construction) which was owned by City Perk but seemed like a town square in the heart of City Park. Â Along the thinking, I am always surprised that more churches (who have parking and buildings that are under utilized) don’t do this in urban areas. Â I have always thought that creating community amenities for the neighbourhood was a great idea whether you are a business or a non-profit. Â Sadly too many of these spaces are created but behind a locked fence and the opportunity is lost.