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They Unpaved Paradise and Put Up a Park
Sarah Kuck, 1 Mar 10


In San Francisco, a handful of parking spaces and public right-of-ways are being remade into mini parks and plazas. Some are lined with trees sprouting from old dumpsters, others are buffered from traffic with large, discarded pipes; inside the improvised borders, tables, small patches of grass and concrete slabs are arranged for seating.

These 'parklets' and plazas are part of San Francisco's new Pavement to Parks initiative, an attempt to transfer some of San Francisco's public space back to pedestrians.

Mayor Gavin Newsom's greening director Astrid Haryati recently told the San Francisco Chronicle, nearly 25 percent of San Francisco's surface is pavement. The Pavement to Parks program aims to change how much of that area is devoted to cars.

This is a fascinating development in the evolution of thought around city streets and who gets to use them. In 2009, New York City took on a similar (yet larger) project -- transforming Broadway to be far more pedestrian friendly:


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the temporary project has been so successful, he plans to make it permanent. The smaller-scale parks in San Francisco are also temporary, but could be made permanent if the community responds positively to them.

Transforming parking spots into parks is an idea that was born in San Francisco with the art group Rebar. Their annual Park(ing) Day Celebration takes over parking spots and turns them into parks for a day, asking passersby to think about how much space we give to cars. This event is celebrated each fall around the world.

As we continue to make cars less important to our society, what will we do with all the space?

Image credits: Urbanist, Flickr, NYC Department of Transportation

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Glad to see this is catching on in other cities - I live in New York and the new plazas have not only provided refuge for pedestrians and lunch breaks but have also improved traffic flows in some cases. Add to this the ecosystem services provided by more permeable surfaces and a comprehensive, well thought-out network of mini-parks and plazas can be really beneficial on several levels!

Posted by: Amy on 2 Mar 10

I've been looking into this trend recently and have found a few examples of converting parking lots into pedestrian parks, including the ones you mention here! In Seattle, they are doing work on Bell Street to convert some of it to pedestrian uses.

And to think of answers to your concluding question - maybe urban gardens? Rebar has also done work where they did a Civic Center Victory Garden, which was functional for both vegetable production and access to people. Maybe that could be a model for future use of former paved areas?

Also, since SF's efforts are temporary and exploratory in nature, it will be really interesting to see what sort of ideas they put out there. Some of the upcoming proposals merely convert a few parking spaces into pedestrian spaces, while others convert entire parking lots. What's so appealing about this process is that it can really be adapted to what they community needs in that area. No playground for kids - add one in an unused parking lot! Didn't the city of SF just make some law about organic farming and local food? This could be a great combination of the two policies.

Using found objects, like unused industrial equipment, is also another great aspect of this movement. You can certainly do it to make a playground, make planters (like Rebar did with the garbage containers), and more.

It'll be interesting to see what other cities follow NYC and SF's lead!

Posted by: Calvin on 3 Mar 10

Wonderful to see San Francisco 'unpaving' their Paradise! We unpaved ours in 2007 by transforming our interlocking brick driveway into a green driveway and a garden. We had to challenge Toronto City Hall for the right to build our green driveway, but it has definitely been worth it. We gave away the interlock using Freecycle. If you're curious you can read about it on my site:

Paradise Unpaved


Franke James
Author, Bothered By My Green Conscience

Posted by: Franke James on 8 Mar 10

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