A Park What?
The always forward-thinking City of Mansfield is at it again with its Historic Downtown Parklet Pilot Program.
What, you might be asking, is a parklet?
Parklets are a creative way to use public spaces in roadways that otherwise have no amenities or gathering space. They are usually built in parking lanes, converting a public parking space into an area with furnishings and landscaping. They can be simple or complex, whatever is in the mind of the person(s) holding the permit.
The Pilot Parklet Program was a collaborative effort between interim City Manager Joe Smolinski’s office and the city planning department. Nicolette Allen, assistant to the city manager and downtown coordinator, joined with Matt Jones, director of planning and development services, to spearhead the effort working with city staff and downtown associations.
“A recent downtown development strategies study identified several strategies to activate Historic Downtown Mansfield, even amongst the COVID-19 crisis,” Allen said. “Two of these strategies were to improve the streetscape and to provide more open space in downtown. The Pilot Parklet Program was a perfect opportunity to do both.”
The program will be implemented through the end of 2020. Officials note that at a time where the future of shopping, dining and casual entertainment are unknown, they believe residents deserve an appealing place to relax and socialize safely. While the city already has an award-winning parks and recreation department that maintains over 900 acres of parkland, and a citywide focus on preserving green space, they see parklets as the perfect opportunity to draw some of these outdoor spaces into downtown.
Created in San Francisco
The world’s first parklets were created in 2010 in San Francisco to reflect the diversity and culture of people and organizations. From there, they have steadily risen in popularity.
And though still in their infancy locally, Allen said the response has been positive in Mansfield as well.
“We met with representatives from two prominent Historic Downtown Mansfield organizations – both Downtown Mansfield, Inc. and the Historic Mansfield Business Association, and both were excited and supportive of the project,” she said. “The program is currently being operated as a pilot program so that we can evaluate if this is something the public would enjoy having as a permanent fixture.
“Currently, the parklets are part of our temporary Pilot Parklet Program, which will expire at the end of the calendar year. We hope the program will be well-received and can become a permanent fixture in Historic Downtown Mansfield.”
Along with a reimagining of downtown, officials believe the project will support local businesses. They can also make folks feel safer and foster neighborhood interaction.
Anyone May Apply
Once a parklet is approved, no-parking signs will be posted 72 hours before construction begins. Also, permittees are responsible for their own maintenance once the project is complete.
City officials are recommending, if possible, to begin construction off-site. They also encourage creativity with less as the future of the project is uncertain past the end of the year.
And all parklets are to be easily removable. However, they are allowed to stay up during special events, such as the Christmas Parade and Pickle Parade, Allen said.
“We have not identified specific locations for the parklets. Anyone may apply to construct a parklet but we definitely encourage applicants to get the support of the property and/or business owner of which they will be constructed in front of,” she said.
Applicant pays for building cost
There is no purchase or rental necessary. The parklets are located in public parking spaces (owned by the city) which are being repurposed into additional public open space. The applicants simply cover the cost of materials and labor for construction. Material costs can range between $3,000 and $10,000, Allen said.
Amenities to consider include seating, landscaping, lighting, artwork, play equipment, overhead weather protection and activation and programming.
While the parklets are constructed by the permit holder, a condition of that permit is that they remain public space. This, in conjunction with their location on public right-of-way property, causes them to be treated like any other public space in the city.
Businesses cannot be operated out of a parklet.
“While some cities allow this, our Pilot Parklet Program does not allow a business to be operated out of a parklet. Our goal was to help locate new public spaces in our Historic Downtown area,” Allen said.
“Mansfield’s Pilot Parklet Program is unique to our city, considering its requirement to be maintained as open public space. There are cities in North Texas that operate parklet programs as an extension similar to outdoor dining patios for restaurant permit holders. This was done to allow them to maximize their ability to remain socially distanced per CDC guidelines.”
Allen said the first parklet was approved July 27.
“We are looking forward to hopefully receiving more applications soon,” she said.
Anyone interested in learning more about the program or becoming an applicant should visit https://www.mansfieldtexas.gov/1588/Pilot-Parklet-Program to learn more.