January 2013 Eight Streets Neighborhood Association Meeting
Proposed parklet – Rachael Szakmary, BTD
The city, through the Boston Complete Streets program, will be installing parklets throughout the city. A parklet is a small park taking up around 2 parking spaces. It is part of a ‘take back the streets’ movement being seen in many urban areas. You can google Parklet to find out more on the concept and examples in other cities.
Ms. Szakmary handed out a presentation that outlined Boston’s goals for the parklets, along with examples of parklet designs form several other cities. A lengthy interactive discussion took up the rest of the meeting over parklets and the pros and cons of having a parklet in Eight Streets.
The proposal is to have the parklet on Hanson, close to the Shawmut intersection. The city is partnering with local businesses to help maintain the parklets, and Wholey grain has stepped forward to be a partner. While parklets are next to businesses, they are open public spaces. The adjacent business cannot proved at-table service in the parklet, but anyone can bring food from any location there to eat. While the partner will keep an eye on the space and help maintain it, they are not the police and are not there to police the area.
Some comments/points of discussion from the meeting include:
Š Everyone liked the idea of a parklet, but there was mixed feelings as to whether eight streets was the place for a parklet.
Š Some people thought it was a great location & addition, given the many eateries in the area it offers more space to sit down and grab a bit, read a book, etc.
Š Others questioned the need for a parklet, when we have 4 parks a short distance from this location.
Š There was a difference of opinion as to what a parklet is. The city has taken the viewpoint that this can add additional space to sit and enjoy yourself in an area that may not accommodate a sidewalk café. As an example, many parklets in other cities are used as outdoor seating for restaurants that have small sidewalks. Some residents felt parklets should be in places where there is no public space. For example, Ms. Szakmary stated that Flour at 131 Clarendon wanted a parklet, but the city did not think it was a good space. Some that that is exactly where a parklet should go.
Š Since the parklet is mostly a daytime location, is this really for residents, or more for people who visit the neighborhood
Š The issue was raised about late night use. The neighborhood would be involved in the design. While the presentation has many nice designs, many of those examples were ‘permanent’ seating. Some people worried about late night congregation. Loud youths, neighbors with loud voices, and late night revelers taking a break on the way home were all concerns. In order to keep the area quiet at night, we would have to design a parklet with removable seating. Since Wholy grain would be the caretaker, and they close at 7pm, the parklet would effectively be closed at 7. This would help with noise abatement, but also close down the parklet early in the summer. This goes back to the above point of the parklet being here for our use or the use of visitors.
Š Some people were concerned about the loss of parking, but the parklet would only take up two spaces, and the benefit of such a design element could easily outweigh the loss of 2 spaces for a few months.
Š Crime was a huge concern. Since this is a public space, only the police would have the authority to remove anyone. We’re combatting homeless and drug issues in the neighborhood. Should someone plant themselves in the seating and pass out, there is nothing we can do aside form call the police and wait. And even without seating at night, there’s nothing to stop someone from sleeping there or doing drug deals at the location. It was stated “the neighborhood” would be in charge of policing the parklet, via calling 911 if we had an issue. There is no guarantee the police would step up patrols in the area just because there is a parklet. At present Ringgold and Bradford parks don’t have these problems, but Watson/Taylor, Peters parks and Berkeley Gardens do have drug and homeless issues. Where might a parklet fall? Less crime because it is close to the street and sidewalk? Or more, because it is an attractive nuisance, and, unlike a fenced in park, easier to get out of if the cops approach (say drug dealers scattering when the police arrive)
Š Another large concern was the permanency of the parklet. Ms. Szakmary stated that the parklets have a lifespan of 3 years, and are ‘custom built’ for the location. Since they only have to align with a curb, we were curious how custom it had to be, since raising or lowering the platform for another location could be very easy. Plus, this is the South End, where you often don’t find level curbing to begin with. But, when asked directly if we could say “no” to the parklet after a year if it didn’t work out well, she said it would be discouraged, as the parklet would have to be ‘thrown away’ since it was custom built. Again, how custom is this if it’s built against a curb. And how much risk should the neighborhood have to take. If this becomes a drug den or homeless hangout, we will be forced to suffer for 3 years??
While we like the idea of a parklet, and applaud the city for continuing to think outside the box and come forward with new ideas, we are still unsure if Eight Streets is the best location for one of the first parklets in the city. While it would be a great addition to the neighborhood, the questions of crime, noise and 3 year commitment still need exploration. We’ll be blogging on the issue to gain more feedback, and be talking with the City and BPD to see if we can get some of our larger concerns addressed.
Meeting adjourned. Next meeting Wednesday, February 13th, at Boston ballet