The Falls Church Economic Development Authority (EDA), in the City’s first official public meeting at City Hall following the unofficial conclusion of summer marked by the Labor Day weekend this Tuesday, had a thick agenda and topping it was an item to consider funding with $900,000 in federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) dollars the formation of a few key “parklets” in the South Washington area of the City.
The panel voted unanimously to divert funding from other earlier-identified projects, namely, the Business Opportunity Investment Program and the George Mason University Small Business Development program, to the parklet development plan.
The final decision will be up to the Falls Church City Council later this month, but a major plus for these projects is that they can be made ready in a short period of time, even though documents on the City’s website show that the matter has been under discussion since at least 2017.
“Parklets” are a novel idea in the U.S. and in Falls Church are modeled on the remarkable success of the “Mr. Brown’s Park” that is currently thriving in the first block of W. Broad St.
The EDA heard a report from the City’s chief planning czar James Snyder based on recent years’ discussions in the City’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation about four prospective locations for small, Mr. Brown’s Park-like spaces, including a proposed triangle park at Annandale and S. Washington, a spot for a plaza outside City Hall, a space identified as the “Hillwood Alley” across from the newly revamped intersection at S. Washington and Hillwood, and a couple blocks over by the intersection of S. Washington and Maple.
At the suggestion of EDA board member and former F.C. City Councilman Ross Litkenhous, the options are limited to the S. Washington area options where they would optimally help promote the businesses in that area. That took the City Hall option off the list.
A parklet is described as “a sidewalk extension that provides more space and amenities for people using the street.” They are defined as “installed on parking lanes and use several parking spaces, typically extended out from the sidewalk at the level of the sidewalk to the width of the adjacent parking space, intended for people.” They are defined as “offering a place to stop, to sit, and to rest while taking in the activities of the street.”
A parklet, according to a report, “may be thought of as permanent, but must be designed for quick and easy removal for emergencies or other reasons such as snow removal without damage to the curb street, always open to the public.” However, some cities have allowed restaurants to create parklets that are not open to the public such as Long Beach, California, Fargo, North Dakota and Montreal, Quebec. San Francisco has been credited with introducing the first parklet in 2005.
In August 2012, according to a report in Wikipedia, the School of Architecture at University of Southern California published a graduate thesis “Experimenting with the Margin: Parklets and Plazas as Catalysts in Community and Government,” which provided a comprehensive history of the creation of parklet and plaza programs in four California cities. In September 2012, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs published a report, “Reclaiming the Right-of-Way: A toolkit for Creating and Implementing Parklets”, examining case studies for parklets in seven cities across North America.
Based on this, in February 2013, The San Francisco Planning Department published a Parklet Manual which served as a comprehensive overview of the goals, policies, process, procedures and guidelines for creating a parklet in San Francisco. The manual also served as a resource for those outside of San Francisco working to establish parklet programs in their own cities.
In 2011 the Union Square Business Improvement District installed the most ambitious parklet, a two-block long installation along Powell Street near Union Square, funded by a corporate donation by Audi.
Since then, parklets have sprung up in Phoenix, Philadelphia, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Jose, Dallas, Seattle, San Diego, Vancouver, British Columbia, Minneapolis, Chicago, Santa Monica, and Morro Bay, Calif.
Following Tuesday night’s action, Falls Church EDA chair Bob Young told the News-Press, “It was very clear at last night’s EDA meeting that, after a detailed briefing by Planning Development Director Jim Snyder, that all of the EDA members enthusiastically support the proposed Parklet Development Plan. It is important to note that such a program would be consistent with the direction provided by the City Council, as well as the intent of the ARPA grants, that these funds be used for long lasting, impactful projects that will benefit the entire community in both the short and long run.”
Young added, “We have much work to do to properly plan and implement these projects which are focused on the continued revitalization of the South Washington Street corridor, a long-neglected part of the City’s business community.”
Falls Church Vice Mayor Letty Hardi, who is a Council liaison to the quasi-independent EDA, also told the News-Press after Tuesday’s meeting, “I love the idea of adding more parklets across the city and build off the success of Mr Brown’s Park, especially to promote more economic activity of nearby businesses.”
She added, “South Washington has traditionally been underinvested so that corridor is ripe for more outdoor gathering spots, seating, and green space. With the completion of the South Washington Street improvements and new intersection at South Maple, parklets would be a great addition.”