The French Quarter Parklet on Main Street and 21st Avenue in Vancouver serves as a miniature public plaza and aims to inspire civic engagement. Amy Logan / Metro

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Vancouver parklets offer respite and community building

By Amy Logan, Metro, Published May 18, 2017

Blink and you might miss them, but Vancouver's smallest parks pack a lot of community-building punch into small, well-designed packages.

Launched in 2013 by the city's VIVA Vancouver program, the parklet pilot program includes an expanding array of mini parks. Parklets are created by extending platforms over parking spaces, transforming space with elements like landscaping, benches, tables, chairs, and bike parking. They may be small, but parklets have lofty goals; as miniature public plazas, they aim to inspire a sense of civic engagement.

The concept was first introduced in San Francisco, and as of 2015, over 50 parklets had been installed city-wide. Los Angeles, Seattle and New York City have followed suit, launching their own parklet projects. The idea is to build community by offering a space to gather, people-watch, and engage in the neighbourhood.

Vancouver's parklets have included Hot Tubs Parklet in the South Fraser, and Parallel Park in front of JJ Bean on Main Street. The Commercial Drive Parklet, replete with sleek wood benches and planters, is situated outside Prado Coffee while Sunny Slopes Parklet is located in front of Rain or Shine Ice Cream. Urban Pasture Parklet on Robson Street incorporates benches and tall grasses.

For the French Quarter Parklet, PWL Partnership provided design services in partnership with Tradeworks, who completed the construction. PWL helped with some of the planting and wood staining, and dealt with the challenges of city approvals and negotiations. The parklet features triangular benches and native species. According to Margot Long of PWL, the French Chocolate Shop owner Anne-Genevieve Poitras, and property owners Mi Soo and Ken Park were engaged in making this happen, and wanted to create a great public space on the street.

Long sees many benefits to such parklets, including "creating a people place instead of a car space, and having the community work together on a project that helps build community."

Parklet Project applicants are encouraged to seek global inspiration from other parklets but also to follow Vancouver guidelines. The ideal parklet location includes a community-oriented neighbourhood with plenty of pedestrian activity.

The South Hill BIA, who helped spearhead the Hot Tubs Parklet, is currently in the beginning stages of planning the first "Streatery" on Fraser Street, according to executive director Susan Lilholt. They are currently waiting for approval from the city's engineering department. According to a City Administrative Report, as of 2016, another five applications were in the design review stage.

Long noted that the most rewarding aspect of designing the parklet was "creating more public realm space for gathering, enjoying restaurants, and being outdoors."

Vancouver parklets offer respite and community building