San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks Program Expands

San Francisco’s innovative “Pavement to Parks” program, which reclaims unused stretches of streets and turns them into public plazas and parks, is expanding with the addition of more sites. There are currently four new plazas across the city, with four more in the works. According to the project, streets and public rights-of-way make up 25 percent of the city’s land area, more than all space alloted towards public parks. “Many of our streets are excessively wide and contain large zones of wasted space, especially at intersections.” For San Francisco, unused streets presents an opportunity to generate new public space at relatively low cost.

San Francisco was inspired by New York City’s efforts to turn its streets into pedestrian plazas. In New York City, excess roadway has been transformed into plazas and seating areas “simply by painting or treating the asphalt, placing protective barriers along the periphery, and installing moveable tables and chairs,” writes Pavement to Parks. There’s also the new Times Square pedestrian plaza, which was recently made permanent (see earlier post).

It’s not clear whether each Pavement to Parks project will seek permanence like NYC’s Times Square. San Francisco’s new public spaces were initially designed to test the “potential of the selected location to be permanently reclaimed as public open space.” Given the low-cost nature of the materials and relatively simple designs, the new plazas can be left in place of picked up and plugged in elsewhere in the city. 

Pavement to Parks says the locations are selected based on a set of criteria:

  • Sizeable area of under-utilized roadway
  • Lack of public space in the surrounding neighborhood
  • Pre-existing community support for public space at the location
  • Potential to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety via redesign
  • Surrounding uses that can attract people to the space
  • Identified community or business steward

Some of the new spaces are also not exactly public plazas, but a new configuration called a “parklet.” As an example, the new 22nd Street Parklet will feature the “creative use of a parking lane” where sidewalks are narrow and pedestrian activity high. “This pilot application will explore the idea of modularity, allowing for a ‘kit of parts’ to be developed for possible future installations.”

Learn more about the program and see images of recent projects.

Image credit: Good Magazine

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