Cyclists enjoy a parklet along Valencia Street near 20th Street. This is the only parklet in front of a private residence.

Want to sit while you sip your coffee? Need to soak in a bit of sunshine and fresh air? Or are your feet weary after a walk through the neighborhood? San Francisco’s new parklets program invites you to take a seat. Dozens of new public mini-parks and mini-plazas are cropping up around the city, thanks to an innovative program that is constructing them right into the city’s streets.

Parklets are small, permanent public spaces offering seating and creative  landscaping in areas previously dedicated to one or two parallel parking spaces.  Located mostly in front of cafes, parklets came out of a city-wide effort to  establish creative uses of parking lanes, uses other than car storage, according to  Andres Power, Program Manager for the San Francisco Planning Department’s  Pavement to Parks program.

The city recently adopted a Better Streets Plan, which seeks to improve the experience of pedestrians and meet social, recreational and ecological needs. “We wanted to have areas where activities could extend from the sidewalk into the street,” says Power. The parklet program provides additional public space in a cheap and pragmatic (e.g. fast and simple) way. Following the example of European sidewalk cafes and Park(ing) Day, an international effort to temporarily transform parking spots into public spaces, the city launched its first experimental parklet in March 2010.

That first parklet was built in front of the Mojo Bicycle Café on Divisidero Street. Six more trial locations followed, and currently dozens of parklets dot the city.  While North Beach and Valencia Street already have multiple parklets, Power is looking to expand the program into more neighborhoods. At this point the city has accepted two rounds of permit applications.

The original parklet: in front of Mojo Bicycle Cafe on Divisidero Street.

Applicants, such as a café, shop, or private resident, fund the design, construction  and maintenance of the parklet. Application fees cover most of the city’s  processing costs, making parklets essentially free for the city. Some parking  meter funds are lost, but some argue that those funds are recouped through  increased commerce and sales tax revenue.

This Noe Valley parklet, along 24th Street, is a great spot to watch the fog roll in over Twin Peaks.

The parklet program makes clear that these are public spaces. If a café provides  seating in a parklet that customers may use, the furniture must differ in appearance from its indoor counterparts. Going forward, all parklets must  include at least some bench seating, rather than just tables and chairs, because  benches more clearly convey that the area is public.

While the city encourages creative design, the program has been framed to  be financially accessible, keeping to a minimum application costs and design  requirements. Moreover, in some areas, applicants have raised funds from  neighbors to cover costs or received donated design expertise. The Mayor’s office  also has some available funds for applicants.

The parklet in front of FourBarrel, on Valencia Street at 15th Street, includes high benches,  hanging bicycle racks and lattices.

Parklets are one of those rare initiatives that has not met with any real  resistance, according to Power. Some neighbors have raised objections due to  potential noise issues, but the loss of a parking space does not seem to have  raised any hackles. Power explains that generally merchants complain about  losing parking, but in this case, since the merchants are requesting the parklet,  they are anticipating benefits from the additional space. Those merchants who value parking in  front of their stores or restaurants do not have to participate in the program,  leaving everyone happy. In addition, the Mayor’s office has directed city  departments to favorably review parklet applications, encouraging the parklets project’s success.

A map of all existing and planned parklets is maintained here. So, find a sunny spot to enjoy your beer or coffee, chat with your neighbors, or simply rest your feet and watch the fog roll in. San Francisco’s new parklets program ensures that there is no shortage of scenic lounging locales to meet those needs.