Parklets—those open-to-all pockets of public space that turn street-parking spots into seating—are usually welcome additions to neighborhoods, though they do occasionally have their detractors. But in San Francisco, the parklet that’s stirred the most controversy is one that looks (oh, irony of ironies!) like a parked car.
Back in November, the bike-gear shop Rapha Cycle Club, working with the design studio Rebar, gave the Marina district its first parklet in the form of a sliced Citroën H Van, whose head and tail stretch across two parking spots at the corner of Filbert and Fillmore streets, bookending the seating, tables, and bike parking within. As a public space that repurposes a motor vehicle for the use of pedestrians and cyclists, the Citroën design is the most concise expression of the parklet ethos we’ve seen yet. And that all may change soon, because of a permitting snafu and a city supervisor who doesn’t like… cars?
As John King reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, city supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents the area, has a unique opportunity to shut down the parklet—or significantly alter its design—because of a permitting issue. Back in the fall, Rebar had begun installing the parklet on a verbal okay from the city, before they had their permit in hand. When the city told them that there was a holdup in issuing a permit number, they stopped work, says Rebar partner and cofounder Blaine Merker, who also served as lead designer on the parklet. That gave Farrell (who had only just learned of the parklet) an opening to challenge the design. "Had we waited one more day, the permit would have been in hand and he actually wouldn’t have had a basis to say anything," says Merker.
Farrell’s problem with the design? The van itself. "I'd like something a little more neutral," the supervisor told the Chronicle. At the very least, it looks like the van will have to go for the parklet to be saved, says Merker. (Farrell didn’t respond to a request for comment.) That’s a giant bummer for Rapha, which invested about $40,000 in the parklet, loading it with upmarket features like stainless-steel chairs, FSC-certified-wood tables and flooring, bike parking, and even a swing-out arm for mounting bikes in need of repair. “There’s not a whole lot of that kind of space in the Marina, and it would be a shame if it wasn’t able to stay there," says Rebar cofounder and partner John Bela.
Beyond the wasted expense, the changes would be a blow to the spirit of the parklet, says Merker. Citroën H Vans serve as sweeper vans in major cycling races, like the Tour de France, picking up cyclists who can’t make their times and must leave the road. "It’s a symbol of failure, but it’s also a symbol of struggle, and the glory and struggle of cycling," he explains. "Rapha chose to use that because they wanted to share that story of cycling with the city. It’s something that’s completely in the spirit of parklets, and the idiosyncrasies and variety in parklets, to have that story in it. That’s really what the supervisor is stripping out, that kind of complexity. He’s looking for a generic, familiar solution rather than a specific, local one."