Drive over to Theo Chocolate Factory today and you may not be able to get parking. No, there's not some awesome special for their coconut curry bites. But you'll find that the spots in front have inflitrated by some burlap sacks and beanbag chairs, formed into a mini public park for Seattle's annual PARK(ing) Day.
It's just one of 40 micro–parks, known as "parklets," that are popping up around Seattle from 9am–3pm today. PARK(ing) Day, first coordinated in Seattle by the urbanist activist organization Feet First in 2009, has since been co-opted (in a great way) by Seattle's Department of Transportation as of two years ago. The yearly event invites businesses and Seattleites to impose their creativity on nearby parking spaces, transforming them into mini parks for the public to enjoy. This year features about three times the number of parklets that participated in last year's PARK(ing) Day.
There was no limit on spaces (though SDOT made sure not permit any spots they felt would truly disrupt traffic) and there was no fee.
The city's PARK(ing) Day started as a grassroots idea (originally born in one San Francisco parking space in 2005 ) where urban design nerds and activisits converted parking spaces into micro–parks. Today, Seattleites need only apply with a site plan to obtain a free permit for the day and have their way with available spots.
The annual event coincides with, and obvioulsy inspired, a new larger project unveiled by SDOT earlier this week to begin building permanent parklets in parking spots. Three trial parklets are in the works: one in Belltown, sponsored by City Hostel Seattle; another in Capitol Hill, sponsored by Montana Bar (it debuted yesterday); and another in Chinatown/International District, sponsored by Chinatown/ID Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA). These three parklets launched this summer as part of a pilot program that SDOT will evaluate by the end of this year; if all goes well, the program could be in full swing early next year.
If enacted, the program would require no state funding; all proposals and funding for additional parklets would come from private businesses, organizations, or residents, to be approved by SDOT. For a comprehensive explaination of parklets, visit seattle.gov's parklet FAQ page.
In the meantime, Seattle residents can get a taste of what a parklet–populated city would look during the PARK(ing) Day presentations today.
Christy McDanold, owner of Secret Garden Books in Ballard, is participating this year for the first time. She said she loves this idea as a use of Seattle's urban space, even more so because it helps local businesses.
Theo Chocolate, one of the other businesses participating, will set up their parklet right outside of their retail store in Fremont. Joanna Lepore Dwyer, Product Development Manager at Theo Chocolate, Inc., said Theo's parklet will be constructed to look like the inside of their factory—with shipping pallets, burlap bags, and cocoa-roasting.
She said there will also be some chocolate samples.