With warmer weather approaching, University City District plans to brighten the neighborhood with the addition of parking-spot sized parks called parklets.
Each year since 2011, UCD has increasingly put out a number of parklets in West Philadelphia with hopes to draw the community together. Parklets are "temporary seating platforms, placed flush with the curb, creating an extension of the sidewalk by replacing one or two parking spaces with a small new park," a recent UCD study performed on parklets said. Within the next couple of weeks, UCD will be placing parklets at a number of nearby locations including 4040 Locust St., 261 S. 44th St., 4239 Baltimore Ave., 810 S. 47th St., and 4903 Catharine St.
UCD plans on expanding its parklet program with a new one at 40th and Sansom this year, UCD Capital Projects Manager Nate Hommel said. The plans to add this parklet came from a recent study performed by UCD that focused on measuring how effective parklets are in bringing more people to public spaces and more customers to public businesses nearby.
A UCD intern spent a number of days at each parklet collecting data, and UCD Policy and Research Manager Seth Budick was responsible for the research analysis. "We're big believers in gathering data," Hommel said. "We use this data to make improvements down the road."
According to Budick, UCD learned several important lessons from the study. After studying existing parklets, the team determined the total usage of each. "A successful parklet can get up to 150 users a day," Budick said, noting that this number provides a powerful platform to further expand their use in the city.
The second takeaway UCD got from the study was learning about the impact of parklets on local businesses. According to Hommel, the implementation of parklets saw a 20% increase in sales for businesses with parklets nearby. "One of the great quotes that we heard early on was from one of the businesses whose sales were up so much that they had to hire additional workers to handle the customers," Budick said.
Through the study, UCD also found "an analysis of what factors actually make for a successful parklet," Budick said. The study concluded that businesses with a high customer turnover but a lower amount of capacity tend to spill more users out into the sidewalk. Additionally, business transparency was a key factor in determining parklet success. If a business has larger windows that allow a customer to look out and be aware that there is a parklet outside, then the parklet will attract more users, Budick said.
UCD feels that the study will help improve not only University City going forward, but other areas of Philadelphia and other cities across the country as well. According to Hommel, outlets such as the Washington Post have picked up on the study, and "[UCD hopes] that even more people grab it and use it."
Manager of Strategic Initiatives at the Philadelphia Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities Cara Ferrentino plans to draw upon UCD's work in her future work throughout the city. "I certainly will use it when speaking with community groups or non-profits interested in hosting a parklet who don't yet have a spot in mind," Ferrentino said. "The study provided great evidence about what we suspected about parklets — that they are positive enhancements of the city's public space." In addition to University City, parklets exist in other city neighborhoods such as Manayunk, South Philly and Chinatown, Ferrentino said.
The ultimate goal of UCD's study and implementation of parklets is to "increase sidewalk vitality" and "to get people to spend more time in the neighborhood," whether it be students, neighbors or workers, which generally increases quality of life, Budick said. Parklets will bring more people outdoors, fostering more appreciation of the urban environment, which in turn will increase demand to make the environment better, giving UCD more opportunities to make further invention, Hommel shared.
"What I really like about the parklets is how they can serve as community meeting points," Budick said.
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