A pedestrian-centered, outdoor-oriented trend started in San Francisco in 2005 when an art and design company plugged a parking meter for 2 hours, rolled out some sod, plopped down a bench, and turned it over to the public until the 2 hours were up. The idea gained momentum, was given the name parklet, and was picked up by the City of San Francisco. The idea is making its way around towns and cities of all sizes in our country and around the world. Parklets, small public spaces made by decommissioning one or more parallel parking spaces, have popped up in places such as Cape Town, South Africa; Washington, DC; Phoenix; and the west coast cities of Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Bend, and even Astoria. They allow for resting, congregating, and even recreating in protected downtown spaces. Could Bandon be the next town to jump on the parklet bandwagon?
At the February Bandon City Hall Planning Commission meeting, the parklet idea was introduced by Planning Director John McLaughlin and City Planner Dana Nichols. They discussed the fact that, counting off-street parking lots, Old Town Bandon has plenty of parking spaces and suggested that some of the street parking spaces could be transformed into public spaces, shifting just a little more of the emphasis from cars to pedestrians.
McLauglin and Nichols suggested putting these parklets in a couple of different places on Second Street: one outside the Bandon Coffee Café, and the other outside of the Broken Anchor restaurant. Both would be visible from Highway 101 and would show drivers and cyclists that there is activity happening. They would draw folks into Old Town who might otherwise pass through.
No specific plans for these possible parklets were proposed, but most parklets have benches or chairs, tables, and some kind of flora: grass or planters filled with color. Others have permanent checker/chessboards printed into tables, bicycle parking, yoga mats, and even stationary exercise equipment. They are typically very creatively designed (Portland’s was designed by architecture students at Portland State University) and are attractive and inviting.
Concerns were expressed in the Planning Commission meeting about the reduction of street parking places in Old Town and potential complaints by locals unable to park in front of the shop or restaurant they want to patronize. McLaughlin acknowledged the concerns and the fact that locals are the most “sensitive to distance” from where they park to their destination. Some ideas to remediate this issue floated around the room, such as changing Alabama Avenue to one lane with a turn lane at First Street and adding up to 9 parallel street parking places, putting time limits on parking spots in Old Town to encourage those staying all day to park in one of the lots, and a trolley that would take shoppers from a parking lot on the edge through to some of the popular destinations.
This is a conversation that will certainly continue in the Planning Commission meetings, but it seems a topic worthy of discussion. With the bustling Bandon Coffee Café, bike-oriented infrastructure, quirky new Gorse Blossom Festival, and new restaurants like the Broken Anchor and Bandon Brewing with its locally brewed beer and wood fired pizza, our fair town seems to be quietly keeping up with the rest of the west coast’s positive cultural changes. The addition of a couple of parklets in may just be the next step in this process and could help draw shoppers and diners into Old Town. This idea is something to keep an eye on.