UPDATED From parking to park: An urban oasis appears in Alameda

UPDATED From parking to park: An urban oasis appears in Alameda

Michele Ellson

Updated on at 10:45 a.m. Friday, September 21; click the picture to launch slideshow.

In her travels through San Francisco and Oakland, Donna Eyestone has seen how gray expanses of curbside parking can be transformed by a single spot’s worth of green space. So she wanted to create a similar urban oasis – known as a parklet – in the heart of Alameda.

Eyestone’s green dream becomes a reality today as she sets up across a pair of parking spots in front of Tucker’s Ice Cream on Park Street. Her “urban farming” setup will be live from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today; in addition to learning about parklets, visitors can gather tips about maintaining their own backyard chickens and bees.

“I encourage people to come and see the space and (think about) how do we get to these permanent parklets, and allow people to really think about how to hang out and use that space,” said Eyestone a digital media instructor who is also a videographer for The Alamedan.

The parklet will be one of hundreds to be set up all over the world Friday as part of PARK(ing) Day, in which artists, activists and regular citizens take over parking spots and set up mini-parks. The event’s goals are to put people in place of parked cars, and to offer public spaces that anyone can use without having to purchase anything from the shops such spaces often front.

“It seems like Alameda is overdue for having these,” she said.

The first parklet sprang up in San Francisco in 2005, created by a design collective that wanted to call attention to what they saw as a lack of public open space and to provoke some rethinking about how cities’ public space is used. By the time the group’s two-hour meter ran out – and a photo of their deed made its way around the Internet – a revolution had been born.

“The great majority of San Francisco’s downtown outdoor space is dedicated to movement and storage of private vehicles, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to serve a broader range of public needs,” Rebar Group’s website for the now-annual PARK(ing) Day event says.

Since leveraging their singular act into an broad open-source event - last year people set up 975 parklets in 162 cities - PARK(ing) Day participants have set up parklets featuring art installations, bike repair shops, free health clinics and even a wedding ceremony, the event website says. But city governments in the Bay Area and beyond have embraced the concept too, typically with a more collaborative eye toward the businesses nearby.

San Francisco has a Pavement to Parks program intended to temporarily convert what its proponents see as excessive streetscape into usable public space, which was inspired by similar efforts in New York City; the city set up a two-block parklet installation on Powell Street last year. Oakland has started a similar program as an outgrowth of PARK(ing) Day and has seven parklet applications nearing approval, its website says, while San Mateo has included parklets in its recently completed pedestrian plan.

Eyestone, a member of the BikeAlameda board of directors and urban farming booster, had originally planned to pursue the parklet project on her own, parking a parade float base she attaches to her bicycle in a metered spot for two hours before moving on. But others became interested in the project and offered to help. The team creating the parklet includes architect and Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda head David Burton and bicycle advocate John Knox White, both of whom are also members of the city’s Planning Board.

“It turned into this huge community building experience,” Eyestone said.

Knox White said he has been involved in PARK(ing) Day activities in Oakland and that he's been "slowly pursuing ideas that encourage looking at Alameda's urban public space as more than limited to the storage of personal automobiles."

"Alameda's main street planning processes have always highlighted a desire for more public space in our urban core, sometimes grand plazas, other times smaller implementations. Parklets, and the parklet movement, allow for incremental implementation and experimentation of the idea," Knox White said. "Rather than spending $100,000 on a study to determine whether open space will work, installations like ours allow for low-cost experimenting with interesting ideas and have, in a lot of cities, led to permanent public open space."

Burton said he was motivated by the challenge of doing something “fun and immediate” on a tight budget, and he liked the idea of reclaiming the space for pedestrian use. Playing off of Eyestone’s urban farming background, he’s striving to create a “barnyard”-like setting with hay bales and galvanized planters that will be filled with plants donated by Ploughshares Nursery for the day (Knox White is a member of the board that oversees the Alameda Point Collaborative, which includes Ploughshares).

In keeping with the ethos of San Francisco’s original parklet, Eyestone wanted to set up something that was distinct from the outdoor seating areas some Park Street-area restaurants have created. “We wanted to really clear that we were a public space that didn’t require you to buy anything to come in and enjoy it,” she said.

But local businesses have bought in to the project: In addition to Ploughshares, The Reuse People and Urban Island Home Furnishings have offered donations for the parklet, and Tucker’s is creating a special ice cream flavor with locally produced honey.

While many similar spaces are created guerilla-style, Eyestone worked with the city to gain a permit for today’s event. And while she experienced some struggles in gaining permission to create Alameda’s first-ever parklet, she’s hopeful that others who choose to follow in her footsteps will benefit from her efforts.

“I’d like to be able to do them every year and have them be easy to do, and let people express their creativity,” she said. “I’d love to have an artist say, ‘I want to do a parklet,’ just like they would say, ‘I want to be in the Fourth of July parade.’”

Burton said he likes the idea of creating some permanent parklets in Alameda, maybe with outdoor seating or bicycle parking – demonstrating that the street is not just a place for cars and transportation, but a space people can occupy and meet. And Knox White said he thinks most of not all of those involved in getting today's parklet up and running would like to see something more permanent spring up in its place if there is community interest in creating it.

Eyestone is hoping the parklet will spark a conversation about public space and whether there are better uses for it than storing an empty car.

“Will we have irate drivers coming up and honking their horns at us? I don’t anticipate that,” Eyestone said. “Nobody knows what PARK(ing) day is, and this will be a good introduction, I hope.”

Photos by Jack Boeger. Parklet design drawing courtesy of David Burton.


Donna Eyestone's picture
Submitted by Donna Eyestone on Fri, Sep 21, 2012

I want to thank everyone who came to visit the parklet today. I figure I spoke to around 300 people about how we might envision different uses for parking spots. Tuckers Ice Cream was a fantastic partner in this venture. At the end of the day everyone was asking "how to we make this permanent". I'd really like to thank Matt Naclerio from Alameda Public Works who really helped in the permitting process, and the Chief of Police, Mike Noonan. We got a great view of the space shuttle fly over -- and I met so many wonderful people who live in this beautiful city. Here's to a successful first PARK(ing) Day Alameda!