Developers paved paradise to put up a parking lot. Now local businesses are getting a chance to replace parking spaces with tropical retreats.
They'll be creating so-called "parklets" by turning on-street parking spots in front of their establishments into inviting places for customers or passers-by to stop and relax.
Parklets first emerged in San Francisco in 2010 and have spread across the country. Now they are about to reach South Florida.
Fort Lauderdale and Miami have approved pilot programs to see if this approach to creating open space will work here. A parklet can use tables and chairs, plants and shrubbery, artwork or other means to form an urban oasis.
"Projects like these create outdoor rooms that give people a place to go to interact with their neighbors and enjoy," said parklet proponent Jonathan Schwartz, who lives and works in downtown Fort Lauderdale. "[They] illustrate how creating comfortable outdoor spaces will draw people out to use the space around them."
But parklets might not be for every city.
In Delray Beach, Laura Simon of the Downtown Development Authority doesn't think they would work on Atlantic Avenue, the city's popular downtown strip that already offers plenty of outdoor dining, along with public benches and parks.
"Parking is at a premium for us," Simon said. "The parking that is on-street is definitely used to capacity."
Fort Lauderdale's first parklet will likely be in front of the Gran Forno Bakery in the 1200 block of East Las Olas Boulevard, where owner Leone Padula has had plans drawn up for using two of the spaces in front of his bakery.
But Padula, who already has outdoor seating for his patrons, isn't planning a sizable cash investment just to give people a space to relax. He's hoping it will slow the traffic zooming past his business on a stretch where he said drivers regularly go 20 miles faster than the posted 25 mph speed limit.
"I'm just doing it for one purpose, a safety purpose," Padula said. "It looks like a highway. It doesn't look like Las Olas at all."
Sam Poole, who lives in the area, said parklets can be the first of several traffic-calming devices to make the stretch more friendly to pedestrians.
"This is simply intended to be a transition back to actually having sidewalks that are wide enough to accommodate the tables and chairs that we see further west on Las Olas," Poole said. "It's not intended to be a permanent condition. It's a transition back to walkability."
Fort Lauderdale's experiment isn't limited to Las Olas. Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to allow up to 20 parklets in the yearlong pilot program on streets with speed limits of 25 mph or less, or along Commercial or Oakland Park boulevards between Federal Highway and the Intracoastal Waterway.
The businesses aren't allowed to provide table service to parklets, because people don't have to be customers to sit there. But people are free to make a purchase and enjoy it at the parklet.
In Miami, which approved its program in June, the Mayfair Hotel & Spa and the Acropolis Greek Taverna have each applied to have a parklet, said Kira Grossman of the city's parking authority.
The parklets won't be cheap, as they'll have to meet stringent city regulations for safety and accessibility. They can cost between $5,000 and $12,000 per parking space to construct, Grossman said.
The parklets sit on sturdy platforms so they are level with the sidewalk. They also have fencing or some other type of barrier to protect people from the passing traffic.
"I don't think it's inexpensive, but if you want to make it look good, that's what you have to do," said Gran Forno's Padula, who estimates it might cost him at least $15,000. "It's also the image of the place."
Cities charge the business owners to make up for the parking revenues lost by taking the spaces out of circulation. In Fort Lauderdale, that fee will be $650 a year per space. Each parklet can be up to two parking spaces in length.
Parklets advance an idea that has been used in past demonstration projects in the city, such as Park(ing) Day — where a parking space is turned into a park for a day — and Better Block, which experiments with innovative projects to find new ways of pulling foot traffic into urban areas.
"Better Block and Park(ing) Day are what are called tactical urbanism, which is more of a demonstration for a day or a short period of time to show what could be there," said Gage Couch, co-founder of Cadence landscape architects and urban designers, which has been involved in such efforts in Fort Lauderdale. "Parklets are more of the physical form of the tactical urbanism coming to life."
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