The Life & Death of the Micropark at 20th & Union
The good news for fans of parklets, the mini-parks where neighbors convert a couple of parking spaces into pedestrian zones, is that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) got such an enthusiastic response to its call for more of them that there are now plans to build 12 new ones in addition to the three—the one outisde the Montana Bar on Olive Way in Capitol Hill, the one on 6th and Weller adjacent to the Oasis Tea Zone in Chinatown, and the one in the queue at 2nd and Bell— that were part of an initial SDOT trial phase.
The bad news is that there were supposed to be 13 new ones. The plan for a parklet at 20th and Union in the Central District adjacent to Chuck's Hop Shop, the lively new hangout that's turned a long-vacant copy shop into the Linda's of Union Street, has been scrapped.
Don't blame SDOT, though. They actually added the Chuck's parklet to the list of new ones—after first rejecting it—when they took the time to reevaluate and realized how much public support the plan had.
"I'd like to be a part of making our neighborhood better and definitely a parklet will be a great addition. ...My business, most of my customers and several businesses around me are in full support."—Original email from Chuck's Hop Shop, supporting the micropark at 20th and Union
Anyone can apply to open and maintain a parklet, you just have to cover the costs (estimated between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on your aspirations—a bench vs. say, a mini-pinball arcade?) and take responsibility for maintenance. You also need to show neighborhood support, including, at least during this SDOT pilot phase, the business that the liberated parking spots are adjacent to.
The landscape architect behind the Chuck's Hop Shop plan, Paul Byron Crane, a longtime resisdent—he lives a few blocks east of Judkins Park—had all that, including the support of Chuck's owner Chuck Shin.
Shin sent an email to Crane in late February stating:
"I'd like to be a part of making our neighborhood better and definitely a parklet will be a great addition. ...My business, most of my customers and several businesses around me are in full support."
Chuck's, in fact, became the official SDOT applicant after taking responsibility for funding and maintenance.
Most of the surrounding businesses—Katy's Coffee, 20/20 Cycle, Hollow Earth Radio, and the Central Cinema—were big supporters ("I think it sounds like a cool idea," Central Cinema owner Kevin Spitzer told Fizz while 20/20 Cycle owner Alex Kostelnik wrote a letter of support to SDOT saying, "I fully support Chuck's Parklet!"). But a few neighborhood power players, such as Central Cinema's landlord Jean Tienna, were firmly against the idea.
Tienna criticized the process, calling it "fraudulent and exclusive," and belittled the parklet conceptually because of her concerns about parking and safety on the fast-moving, sloped arterial. "I would fight that [the parklet]. I don't want any gathering areas in the street...I think it's a bad location for this idea."
But "I totally support" benches on the edge of the sidewalk, she added.
Opposition from Tienna (and reportedly from Charles Ragen, owner of ChenRagen, the stone, ceramic, and building materials store at 21st and Union) evidently changed Chuck's owner Shin's mind.
Shin tells Fizz he was initially interested, but backed away when the neighborhood and community didn't like the idea. "I don't want any gathering areas in the street...I think it's a bad location for this idea."—Local landlord Jean Tienna
SDOT public space manager Jennifer Wieland, who heads up SDOT's parklets program, tells Fizz: "Chuck's decided to withdraw the application. He felt he didn't have neighborhood support, and chose to focus on building a patio on his property," instead of applying to use the public right-of-way that's currently reserved for cars.
Crane, who says he also gathered 78 signatures showing support from Chuck's customers, says he thought about moving the project across the street and putting it in front of the 20/20 bike shop, which wanted the parklet, but they rent from Tienna.
Crane's heady design sounded like something out of Her or Logan's Run: All metal, with some kind of tree sculpture to create shade and collect water for plants, he tells us.
A parklet a few blocks away sponsored by the Cortona Cafe at 24th and Union is still on the list of planned microparks.