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Monday Jan 19, 2015

Cape Town parklet delights and frustrates

They grew out of a movement in San Francisco where people tried to take back the streets from cars, and have now spread to cities around the world.

This Longmarket Street parklet takes up a parking bay but gives people a place to sip their coffee, tap on their computers or just park off.

They are called parklets - structures built on streets next to the pavement, with seating and greenery, where the public can sit and relax.

A firm of Cape Town architects and urban designers have built one outside their offices in Longmarket Street and have a permit from the city council to have it on the street for a year.

Martin Pallmann, one of the architects, described it as "public space that is essentially like a massive park bench". It has been on the street for about three weeks.

"Parklets are part of a worldwide initiative to have more focus on pedestrians in cities," said Pallmann.

"It started off in San Francisco, where people took over a parking bay by feeding coins into the metre all day, put down a piece of astroturf and sat there.

"It's grown into a world movement. It's there for pedestrians to use and since we put it up in mid-December, we often see people having their coffee there. Sometimes we have our lunch there. It is a public space and the rule is it's not for commercial advertisers. We paid for it, but it's for the public."

Besides seats, there are plants and space to lock up bicycles.

The first formal parklets were built in San Francisco in 2010. By January 2013, the city had 38. The name parklet was intended to describe an extension of the pavement where parking bays were converted into small public "parks" for pedestrians.

Pallmann said the city council had launched a pilot project of parklets two or three years ago, with one in Harrison Street and another in Bree Street, outside Clarke's. That one still remains there.

But not everyone favours parklets. The Cape Times saw one motorist in Longmarket Street gesticulate angrily at the structure taking up a parking bay.

Pallmann said: "There will always be people who are offended by the idea. But that's okay, because it's all part of a discussion we want to get going. It's about creating awareness for pedestrians and cyclists, especially now that the Bus Rapid Transport system is running. But we can understand that not all motorists will appreciate the idea."

Pallmann said his company had gone through a long process with the city council to get a permit for the parklet for a year.

The city confirmed it had granted the company a permit for a year. However, because building permit requirements had delayed construction, the permit would expire in June, after just six months.

The city is drawing up guidelines in anticipation of future parklet applications. Locations will be determined by interest from the private sector and the suitability of the applications.

"A parklet is a private initiative permitted by the city. Providing the framework reflects the city's commitment to people-centred public urban spaces," the city said.

Cape Times


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