ArchitectureView – New Parklets

ArchitectureView Bob Barzan

New Parklet for the Design District

Over the last several months, we have seen many changes in downtown Modesto. Some we have already noted: the reopening of 10th Street between J and K, several new handsome murals, and two popular parklets at the intersection of 10th and J Streets. Last month, another parklet was added on J Street between 10th and 11th in front of Preservation Coffee and Tresetti’s, constructed by volunteers in conjunction with the Downtown Collective. This transformation will continue to evolve in March.

Parklets are an alternative to pedestrian malls. In the late 20th century, pedestrian malls were popular across the country and hundreds were built in an attempt to save downtowns from stagnation and economic decline. According to a new study, American Pedestrian Malls, the failure rate for these malls was 89%. Instead of increasing vibrancy, pedestrian malls and the way they were built often hastened the demise of downtown areas. Today, most of these malls, including the one in Modesto, have been returned to full street status but with generous accommodations for pedestrians. The Modesto reopening is too new and incomplete to evaluate but the prognosis is good. The success rate for cities that have converted their pedestrian malls back to streets is huge with 90% seeing improvements in occupancy rates, retail sales, property values, and street vibrancy.

A parklet, an extension of the sidewalk into street space that is often unused or little used, is a pedestrian-friendly way to bring vibrancy to an area without banishing cars. They provide amenities for pedestrians like places to eat, read, or meet friends without blocking either the auto or pedestrian right-of-way. The outdoor dining spaces in Modesto now often restrict the sidewalks making it difficult for people to walk by. Even when a restaurant is closed, its fenced sidewalk dining space is unusable by anyone. Parklets can be a win-win alternative for everyone.

We’ve seen several experimental one-day parklets downtown during Park(ing) Day, part of the Modesto Architecture Festival and an annual worldwide event where artists, designers, and citizens transform street space into temporary public parks. The two experimental parklets at 10th and J have been successful and hopefully they will become a permanent part of the design district. Parklets also help beautify the streetscape and provide a place for bike racks that don’t block the sidewalks.

Parklets are not the answer to all that ails downtown Modesto, but they are part of a larger community response to bring increased vibrancy to our city core. Watch for them. Try them out.

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