The city’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.
“In terms of changing the dialog about what the public realm can be, I think it’s been really successful, both with the public and within the city bureaucracy itself,” says Chasan, who has headed up the program for two and a half years. “When you park your car on the street, you’re essentially privatizing a public space. So when you turn it into something for everyone, it becomes a very literal metaphor.”
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 — 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 they’re really not. The city requires that parklets look and feel public and separate from the sponsoring business.
“Sometimes people get upset if they feel like the parklet feels private, like it doesn’t live up to the civic ideals of the program,” says Chasan. “Like ‘This is supposed to be for everybody and it doesn’t feel like it’s for everybody.’ They should get upset about that if that’s the case.”
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. 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. I have always thought that creating community amenities for the neighbourhood was a great idea whether you are a business or a non-profit. Sadly too many of these spaces are created but behind a locked fence and the opportunity is lost.