San Francisco’s Public Parklets
“Parklets” are small pocket parks built inside of former street-side parking spaces. The idea behind parklets is that you can take a small amount of space (like one, two, or three parking spaces) and turn it in to something that can be a public amenity.
Parklets are intended to be open to the public and are usually situated in front of a restaurant or market. The design of parklets can vary widely and unfortunately, certain design elements can sometimes give the impression that the parklet is private seating specific to that restaurant or market instead of a space open to the general public. For example, crowded parklets full of bistro tables and high, dense walls can look like cafe seating while parklets with varying seating and standing options (the red parklet below has a tall bar where you can place your elbows or food and beverages) and an open design with high visibility can appear to be more welcoming and meant for anyone to relax in and enjoy.
San Francisco has been a leader in the parklets movement and their Pavement to Parks program works with businesses to build parklets in front of their shops/restaurants. When I was home for the holidays, I visited San Francisco and snapped a few photos of some parklets that seemed to be working well as approachable and accessible public spaces- even on a cold and rainy day.
An Abandoned Walmart Transformed
According to the New York Times, more than 130 former Walmart stores are vacant and available for purchase or lease across the country. With many big box stores and malls closing, we have the opportunity to think of ways to reuse these structures instead of letting them sit abandoned, open to negative activity.
In McAllen, Texas, the city transformed a former Walmart (the size of two and a half football fields) into a contemporary library filled the space with innovative amenities like an art gallery, cafe, used book store, an auditorium, meeting rooms with audiovisual services and electronic classrooms.
The new library is an upgrade from the city’s former library and has drawn a large number of people (about 62,000 people came to the library in July, up from 28,000 visitors this time last year) but some have criticized the library for being outside of the city center and I could not tell from the website if it was accessible by public transportation.
How would you transform a former big box store? What would you do with all that space?!? I’d love to do a workshop with children and hear what kind of imaginative ideas they’d have for a building that size. Water slides? Roller coasters? Skateboarding park? Petting zoo? The possibilities are endless.
Designing Cities and Transit for Seniors
Active Living For All Ages: Creating Neighborhoods Around Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.
The AARP Public Policy Institute (AARPPPI) is studying how seniors get from one destination to another. Do they walk, do they ride public transportation, can they travel independently, how far away do they live from their destinations and how long does it take them to get there?
AARPPPI partnered with Streetfilms to highlight work that is being done in Arlington, Virginia to create a more walkable, accessible community where you can spend the entirety of your life. AARPPPI says that when you are “planning for older adults, you’re planning for an entire community.”
Planners and policy makers in Arlington have tried to create residential and commercial development that is oriented around access to public transportation (also knows as Transit Oriented Development) and to incorporate urban design improvements that address issues important to seniors including smooth and connected sidewalks, perceptions of safety at public transit stations and bus stops, and the connectivity of and distances between the residential and commercial neighborhoods.
AARPPPI found that Arlington seniors (75 in older) make 22% of their trips on foot and that their number of trips taken on public transportation was four times higher than seniors living in other suburban communities. They also found that when public transportation wasn’t accessible, seniors didn’t use it. This conclusion may seem obvious, but it is still important to acknowledge and is always helpful to think about when making policy, planning and design decisions that impact our communities.
Pedestrian Safety in West Hollywood
The Los Angeles region has a new safety campaign called “Watch the Road” which encourages drivers and pedestrians to be aware of one another at all times.
The City of West Hollywood has a large gay community and one of the Watch the Road campaign ads feature a same-sex family, acknowledging and including a diversity of families in their campaign. Inclusiveness can foster a sense of civic pride and participation and by the city acknowledging the diversity of their community, the city is encouraging a feeling of inclusiveness.
Designing for the Deaf
For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, certain environments can be a deterrent to communication and hinder navigation. For deaf people, vision and touch provide spatial awareness and orientation, and lighting clear sight lines (within buildings and shared space) can aid visual communication and wayfinding.
Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C, America’s leading institute for higher education for the deaf and hard of hearing has issued “DeafSpace Guidelines” which address the ways in which deaf people have altered their surroundings to better suit their needs and design strategies we can implement going forward that address these issues. According to Gallaudet: “When deaf people congregate the group customarily works together to rearrange furnishings into a “conversation circle” to allow clear sight lines so everyone can participate in the visual conversation. Gatherings often begin with participants adjusting window shades, lighting and seating to optimize conditions for visual communication that minimize eyestrain. Deaf homeowners often cut new openings in walls, place mirrors and lights in strategic locations to extend their sensory awareness and maintain visual connection between family members.”
In 2005, Hansel Bauman, the director of campus design and planning at Gallaudet University, worked with faculty, students, and staff to research the behavior of deaf people within their environments. From this research, the DeafSpace guidelines emerged which now consist of over 150 DeafSpace design elements that address the major issues between the deaf experience and their physical environment including sensory experiences, mobility, promexics (use of space within interpersonal communication), light and color and acoustics change the behavior of deaf people within their environments. These design improvements have been implemented across the Gallaudet campus including within five residence halls (and another under construction) and the Sorenson Language and Communication Center. Bauman has found all of these issues essentially touch upon how to build community, embrace visual language and promote personal safety and well-being. Robert Sirvage, a Gallaudet professors says “DeafSpace really is about bringing a new perspective to the meaning of good design.”