Nothing is so complicated in San Francisco as doing an altruistic thing without sufficient permission – for, as revealed in the San Francisco Chronicle (January 6, 2013), that can provoke the wrath of an unpropitiated local troll. To begin with, we must start with a clever urban innovation to convert some parts of the public streets into public walking and gathering places:
Pretty cool, isn’t it?
While any given urban driver may wish for just one more parking space, to give up two spaces and create something walkable, sittable, and whimsical, has to be worth it.
Parklets are open to anyone who wishes to linger. Sponsors pay the installation costs and provide ongoing maintenance but aren’t liable for lost parking meter revenues; the city’s policy since the program’s debut in 2010 is that the addition of public space along busy sidewalks is worth the trade-off.
So the city takes what would have been one or two or three parking spaces, and allows a local sponsor – most probably, a walk-in-oriented retail business that would like people to linger in their vicinity — to install semi-permanent seating. Though the space is technically public, these outdoor-seating areas enable the businesses to sell more food or drink. (Back in December, 2011, the San Francisco Chronicle’s architecture critic John King toured all of them then extant.)
Some parklets are whimsical, such as a new one on 22nd Street near Valencia Street that includes white rocking chairs and painted cutouts of Victorian homes.
22nd and Barlett: nice sitting on a sunny day
Others are plain, such as another new one on Valencia near 26th Street that consists of little more than a wooden deck with a wooden railing and an inset wooden bench.
Whatever the venue, the parklets are a cheerful innovation suitable for a highly urbanized and dense environment:
They’ve expanded because San Francisco is well supplied with creative people and under-supplied with sidewalk public spaces, so the combination enables beautification at the expense of parking spaces. Now, while our metal overlords might resent these intrusions into their asphalt domain, we humans tend to like the parklets, especially if they are maintained, out of self-interest, by the businesses which invested in creating them as a means of stopping foot traffic.
Pretty nice, and it hides the recycling bins
So everybody should be happy, right?
Naturally, a curmudgeon appears.
The rough patch in question is at the corner of Filbert and Fillmore streets in the Marina district. Where two metered parking spaces existed until November, a 21-foot-long platform with seating now straddles the severed front and rear of a small gray Citroen van.
Now, personally I think this is pretty clever.
Expensive detail work and pleasant places to sit: Raphha Rebar’s parklet
Passers-by enjoy the nook, which includes a raised carriage-like seating area.
Besides, it’s whimsical – after all, we are used to seeing hundreds of cars on the street, and to see one that’s both anachronistic and evocative is a head-turner.
In this case, design firm Rebar set out to meld – literally – a relaxed public space with the grueling ethos of long-distance cycling: The bisected Citroen H-Van in its prior life picked up competitors who couldn’t go the distance in events such as the Tour de France. The platform inserted between the two pieces includes bicycle parking as well as benches and a sturdy table.
As a parklet, the Citroen is a double success: it attracts attention, and then offers a walkability amenity.
Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents their area, is far less effusive. While stressing his support for parklets in general, Farrell balks at the look of Rapha’s – “I’d like something a little more neutral” – and how it appeared virtually overnight.
Now, what gives Supervisor Farrell the right to be a troll?
Anyone who calls me a troll has to pay a fine
“They didn’t do any outreach to neighborhood businesses or nearby neighborhood organizations,” Farrell said.
Supervisor Farrell is incorrect.
So they alerted the neighbors and told the city.
No objections were filed with the city. Design details were reviewed by city planners and the Department of Public Works.
Not only that, the sponsors put up a Web site – perhaps you’ve heard of the web, Supervisor? – and advertised the parklet’s grand opening last November.
Oh, really clandestine, wasn’t it?
Then, after receiving the verbal agreement of a thumbs-up, Rapha and Rebar made their mistake. They started installing the parklet before the permit was issued.
As a local blog put it, with barely-disguised disdain:
The district’s supervisor Mark Farrell has seized on a window of opportunity to get rid of the conceptual space–or at least alter its “look at me” design. Apparently, work was begun on the parklet on the basis of a verbal OK from city, but was soon delayed from being finished thanks to a permitting issue (big surprise!). That’s when Farrell swooped in and made a case for why the way the parklet’s looks should be changed.
Really though, Mr. Farrell’s objection seems to be the sponsors’ failure to make the requisite obeisances.
“We have a lot of processes in this city. … I wasn’t aware of this parklet being approved.”
And nothing escapes my eagle eye
Since the paperwork hadn’t been completed, a stop-work order was issued a week or so later, along with a $1,000 fine.
A thousand-dollar fine seems excessive – indeed, almost deliberately so. Were I the sponsors, I’d contest it given that they proceeded in good faith based on representations from city officials that the permit was being issued.
Planners say any mix-up by Rapha and Rebar was a procedural oversight, not an attempt to circumvent rules.
All of which confounds the manager of the parklet’s sponsor, who is trying to figure out how to salvage a $40,000 investment without alienating the local powers-that-be.
Lawrence Low and son George look at the new parklet in front of Rapha Cycle Club at Filbert and Fillmore streets.
“We don’t want to set back the whole program,” said Slate Olson, general manager of Rapha Cycle Club, which specializes in bicycling gear and also sells coffee. “Our intention was to create something that didn’t exist in our neck of the woods.”
Mr. Olson in some English custom-designed urban cycling clothing
Oh, I don’t know – looks to me as if it’ll fit right in with the funky urban eclectic ambiance.
But on a recent sunny afternoon, the unusual oasis struck a receptive chord.
“We saw it from across the street, and it piqued our curiosity,” said Mark Rafael of Pacific Heights, who stood on the sidewalk while his children explored. “It’s very inviting.”
Another fan was Robert Tatsumi, who lives a few blocks away and was sipping coffee with friends from Noe Valley.
The parklet in Noe Valley
“I like the whole idea of parklets, and this is a good one,” Tatsumi said. “I know some people get upset about losing parking, but to me, it’s better for the neighborhood to have places to sit.”
Chimed in Jennifer DeLuca of Noe Valley, “It’s cute and charming. The ones in Noe Valley are more straightforward.”
Meanwhile, the parklet has plenty of supporters:
“The applicants worked in good faith, met all the requirements toward securing a permit and developed an exceptionally creative design,” said David Alumbaugh, manager of the Planning Department’s city design group. “They failed in not waiting until a permit was formally issued.”
Mr. Alumbaugh sounds like a very reluctant referee, one whose sympathies like with the van.
This gives Farrell a lever to, if he wishes, insist that Rapha dismantle the structure. But he says a better solution is to remove the vehicular aspects of the existing structure and let the seating remain.
In other words, make it utterly bland and unobjectionable.
The parklet at 1755 Polk, outside Crepe House: nice but boring
“I’m trying to strike a middle ground,” Farrell said. “Some people want it gone altogether.”
When asked who has objected to the parklet, Farrell mentioned the Union Street Association, which represents merchants on the popular shopping strip a block away.
The parklet at 1570 Stockton, outside Tony’s Pizza – would you know that was public space?
That sounds like envy talking, not esthetics.
“I’ve heard other merchants say with vehemence that it is so tacky, and I’m in that camp,” said Lesley Leonhardt, who owns the gallery Images of the North, and is executive director of the association. “It’s just odd, odd.”
You mean it’s successful.
How can you not smile when you see that?
But Leonhardt also said the group hasn’t taken a formal position. Nor has anyone come to her with complaints. In fact, she didn’t know the parklet existed until an aide of Farrell’s gave her a heads-up.
In short, a supervisor whose nose is out of joint points for political support to a trade association that never objected to the parklet when it was being reviewed, and has not objected to it even now. Mr. Farrell, your mystery opponents look more and more like they are friends of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
“He’s been great, but I get the sense he feels blindsided” by not having known of the parklet in advance, Olson said of Farrell. “If we have to make a couple of tweaks, we will.”
Gosh, what an eyesore – those mailboxes have got to go
I think Mr. Olson is being politic. I hope he absolutely does not make any changes. In this I have support from commenter Kevin Baldwin on local blog 7×7:
Are people really so conservative/sensitive in Cow Hollow that parked cars are okay in parking spots, but a parked car that has been artistically repurposed into a place to sit is not okay in a parking spot?
Yeah, that’s much more esthetic
Mark Farrell realizes that there are cars far uglier than this parked all over the place, right?
And parking a cop car in a bike lane is perfectly okay
Evidently not – or perhaps he’s merely flexing political muscle for the sake of it.
Stubborn opposition to proposals often has no other basis than the complaining question, “Why wasn’t I consulted?”