Friday, September 20, is PARK(ing) Day, when parking spaces are made into actual parks for a day, or for as long someone remembers to feed the meter. (I’d like to see the Boston police department try to tow a park.)
Boston has been ready for PARK(ing) day for months! The city has built “parklets”—the term for such things—in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill, and plans more for Allston, Brighton, and Fort Point Channel. Even suburban Lexington has cleverly installed a parklet in front of a bicycle store. Strangely, Boston’s parklets seem to have very little in the way of plants. Perhaps they’re actually plazalets? Squarelets?
What’s more, the Jamaica Plain parklet cost $15,000 without providing any shade. All of $500 of that money was somehow spent on the plants in the above picture. Apparently tufts of grass are hard to come by nowadays.
As you’d expect, there are grumbles about removing valuable parking spaces just to give people places to sit. Frankly, those grumbles are really the point of PARK(ing) Day, if not the parklets themselves.
Parking spaces weren’t depositing in Boston by passing glaciers. They are the result of deliberate choices about land use—choices that have the potential to destroy local businesses, as happened when the city of Hartford, CT increased its parking supply by 300%. When a city increases the space for parking, it decreases the space for everything else there; a business, a clinic, a park. Those complaints about TWO WHOLE PARKING SPACES being taken for a parklet open an opportunity to talk about space, its value, community needs, and the price of providing low-rent land for cars.
It’s not clear what the long-term effect of these parklets will be on city lift. Lexington’s two-space parklet includes a one-space corral for 20 bikes; simply providing the corral before the umbrellas and planters arrived increased bicyclists on the street by 60% on Saturdays. That number is interesting because Lexington’s parklet is on Massachusetts Avenue a block away from the Minuteman Bikeway. It could just be the result of seasonal variation—perhaps more people bike in August than May, when the first count was done. But if it isn’t, then Lexington Center is now attracting 100 potential customers on Saturdays who simply didn’t bother coming before… by giving up two parking spaces. What’s that space worth to you?