John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
"It was just sitting there, gathering dust."
Travel to the corner of Filbert and Fillmore streets in San Francisco, and you'll likely see a bunch of bicyclists kicking back inside a dismembered automobile, like hunters celebrating a massive kill.
The surreal scene is the newest addition to San Francisco's fleet of parkets, semi-permanent public spaces that have been popping up like 'shrooms all over the city. This one is the first to rise in the Marina District, which thanks to the parklet is now down by two metered parking spaces. The mini-village green looks ready to cruise down the road at any second, having been built around a Citroën H Van modded to include wooden tables and benches, plant beds and on-site bike parking.
The automotive parklet is proving popular with pedestrians and customers of the nearby Rapha Cycle Club, a bike shop and cafe that was responsible for getting it built. The store's London-based parent company, biking-gear maker Rapha, just happened to have an old Citroën that someone had found "in a barn in France in the 1940s," says the Cycle Club's John Maniquis. After featuring the car in its New York pop-up store, Rapha decided to ship it to the West Coast, where parklet (and bushwaffle!) designer Rebar Group eventually carved it up and transformed it into a modern-day hitching post.
People familiar with cycling history ought to get a chuckle out of the Citroën. "They're traditionally called broom wagons," says Maniquis. "They would 'sweep up' after the Tour de France. They'd pick up racers who weren't going to finish the race, who fell off the back and were just dying."
The parklet opened for business on Friday after a bottle-busting christening. So far, the public reaction has been about 98 percent positive, says Maniquis, with people reporting they're "very very happy" to have another park in the neighborhood. The remaining 2 percent either bemoan the loss of parking spaces or complain about the destruction of what they view as a historically valuable auto. "But what they don't know is that it didn't have an engine in the first place," Maniquis says. "It was just sitting there, gathering dust."
Renderings, courtesy of Rapha:
This was the scene at the parklet's opening-night party on Friday: