By Drew Jaffe
Sometime in the early fall, coffee-sippers and pizza-eaters may find themselves sitting outside at one of Berkeley’s two new parklets.
If all things go as planned, the first one is set to open in front of the Cheese Board Collective at 1520 Shattuck Ave. in the city’s Gourmet Ghetto, according to North Shattuck Association Executive Director Heather Hensley. A second parklet will open in front of Philz Coffee at 1600 Shattuck, and at Guerilla Café (1620 Shattuck) soon after. They will be maintained by the adjacent businesses but will be open to non-customers too.
No bigger than a few parking spaces, these miniature urban parks are extensions of the existing sidewalk and provide additional seating and green space for pedestrians.
Local architect Ian Moore is collaborating with the North Shattuck Association on the Philz and Guerilla location. He believes the new parklets will generate even more appeal for the Gourmet Ghetto, which is already a popular commercial district.
“Parklets help people fall in love with a place they already like,” Moore said. “They create an opportunity to spontaneously meet, hang out, learn more about your neighbors.”
Moore designed the space with this idea in mind. There will be both movable and fixed seating for 25 people, as well as a standing bar. The structure itself will be made of reclaimed wood and steel and feature several planters and a shade canopy. Next to the parklet will be 12 bike parking stalls.
While this may seem like a modest addition to the district, it has taken years to realize, Hensley said. Until recently, the city had no official permit process for parklets, so members of the North Shattuck Association worked closely with Eric Angstadt, the city’s planning director, and city council members Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguín to develop a parklets pilot program, which was approved last July.
But the obstacles didn’t stop at permits. Some community members wondered how the city would replace revenue lost from the parking spaces supplanted by the parklets. Hensley said that a recent reconfiguration of parking at Shattuck Avenue and Rose Street added 10 new spaces to the site, which gave them some breathing room for the projects. Emunah Hauser, who is running publicity for the project’s fundraising campaign, added that the increased seating space and bike parking should draw even more people to the area.
“There’s this paranoia about parking spaces, and it always works from an assumption that people who walk and bike aren’t customers. But you can get a lot more people coming through a certain area when you don’t have one person taking up a parking space for an hour,” Hauser said.
Parklets create a reason for people to stay in the area longer, go to more shops and get hungry enough to eat at a local cafe or restaurant, according to Hensley and Hauser.
In the case of the Cheese Board Collective’s parklet, additional seating might also make for a safer option. The popular pizzeria and bakery regularly host throngs of people, and chairs quickly get snatched up. For some customers, Shattuck’s grassy median is a convenient — although illegal —alternative. But sitting there puts them dangerously close to street traffic. The added space provided by the parklet might curb this habit, Hensley said.
Funding will be the last challenge for planners. Although small, the parklets are not cheap. Hensley puts their cost at $20,000-$25,000 a unit. The Cheese Board Collective is footing its parklet’s bill, but the one in front of Philz and Guerilla will be crowdfunded, which Hensley said will reinforce a sense of public ownership.
“We probably could have gone to some funders and tried to get some sponsorship from a bank, but that isn’t what (this) was about. We wanted to have it be multiple small donations, and have a lot of people feel like they owned it. It’s sort of a way of building community,” she said.
A Kickstarter campaign, started last Friday, has raised over $500 so far, and planners hope to boost that number to $15,000 by the end of July. If they can raise the money by that time, they should be able to break ground on the project by late summer and complete the parklet by fall, according to Hensley.
Their efforts won’t stop there. Hensley says a third parklet is in the works for a space on Shattuck in front of Saul’s Deli at 1475 Shattuck, and that the North Shattuck Association is helping other groups around the city start their own parklet projects.
While Berkeley has a long way to go before it can match San Francisco’s flourishing parklet scene, continued efforts from groups like Hensley’s are pushing in that direction.
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