Once a year, TreeHugger goes nuts for Park(ing) Day, that magical time when cities around the world take space reserved for cars and turn it into mini parks and public space. Thanks to a new initiative, New Yorkers will be able to celebrate Park(ing) Day six months out of the year.
One of the five businesses that took advantage of the new and drably-titled Seasonal Curbside Seating program, run by the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), was Local, at Sullivan St and Houston St, in SoHo. The owners, Craig and Liz Walker, heard the City was allowing certain establishments to make their own, semi-permanent pop up parks, and jumped at the chance.
Battling the Neighbors
Not surprisingly, going through the bureaucratic application process was something of a endurance test. The Walkers had to fill out a form for the DOT, which determined that the site was appropriate (no fire hydrant, no serious traffic, etc). But the real challenge came from the local Community Board, which had final say on whether the project would go ahead. One man in particular insisted that losing the curb space would be a nuisance, and he had plenty of allies at the board meeting.
The Walkers started a petition to drum up support. They live around the corner from Local and many of their neighbors are regular customers. They soon had 400 signatures. "We hammered away at them," Liz says, and eventually they got the Community Board's stamp of approval.
The Building Process
The process of building the seating platform wasn't simple, and it wasn't cheap. The DOT provides little other than its permission; it doesn't fund any of the design, construction or insurance costs. Ultimately, the Walkers spent $11,000, some of which they made back with a fundraiser. Local's pop up park finally opened in July with seating space for 12.
There were still plenty of rules to follow: no smoking, no alcohol, no using the space after the coffee shop closed. Interestingly, the area was considered a public space, so it wasn't restricted to Local customers.
Reaping the Benefits
The outdoor space was a hit from the beginning. The timelapse video below shows a "day in the life" of Local. 96 people enjoy the special seating in the space of a few hours, space usually taken up by two parked cars.
While I was at Local, a customer asked if they were going to install the platform again this year. The answer is yes- Liz and Craig plan on having it installed in April; it will remain in place until at least October.
On a street (and a city) where public space is limited, Liz said, the outdoor area recreated in miniature the "bench culture" of people bringing chairs to the street and creating a community. That opportunity to connect with people is especially important in cities, where, despite being surrounded by millions, it's easy to feel isolated and alone. And who needs all those cars, anyway?