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Parklets, Prizes, & Promos

Our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, rarely elevates issues of design and architecture to the front page. But last week (December 29th), that’s where you could find Urban Design Critic John King’s Streetscapes column (photos above). Billed as “a mini tour of tiny parks” around the city, the article is more than just a guide – it even gives information on how to get your own parklet approved and built in San Francisco. Our friend Deep pioneered the first residential parklet on Valencia Street in the Mission District.

John King is probably best known for his book Cityscapes, a compact guide to 49 buildings in San Francisco, many of which are eclectic and unique and not to be found in standard tourist guides. King delights in the unexpected, which we think is a pretty good way to approach buildings, streets, people, food, and life in general.

You would expect to see coverage of this topic here in our newsletter, PUBLIC Opinion, where we have featured parklets in the past. But the fact that King is getting front-page attention is not only a tribute to his journalistic chops but also proof that the question of how to make our cities more livable and sustainable has become a mainstream issue. The Chronicle and the many activists, like Deep, that expose the broader public to these “pedestrian” issues deserve a thank you for educating us about issues relevant to a city’s modernity, civility, and sustainability. It got us thinking about this issue:

What is the greenest city in the US and what makes it so?
San Francisco, like many US cities, likes to toot its green horn and would love to be considered the most sustainable city in the US. We might be the recognized national leader in “parklets,” but parklets alone do not make a city green. What does make a city sustainable? How do we measure it? That’s a heated and somewhat elusive question, and there are lots of opinions. We’d like to hear yours.  A $100 merchandise credit will go to the best response.

P.S. Congratulations to Deep & Kimberly, who graced our catalog as a PUBLIC model, on their New Year’s Eve engagement. We wish them many years of happiness together on and off a bicycle.

P.P.S. John King has numerous excellent articles on urban design that are archived on SFGate.  He occasionally lectures around town and you can follow him on Twitter.

7 Responses to “Parklets, Prizes, & Promos”

  1. Naomi Says:

    Public commitment to green spaces would be a great thing for us in Wichita. There’s a Downtown Development Group working to try and make it a more bike/pedestrian-friendly area but, overall, public interest seems pretty close to nil. A shame since our wide, flat city is a great place for bikes.

  2. Cheryl Says:

    Great story! I hope we see more parklets in the City. I don’t know if it’s a parklet, but there is a wonderful landscaped sidewalk space in my neighborhood in the Central Richmond District. I’ve admired it for the past couple years and the homeowners did a great job- plants, seating, and friends hanging out on nice days. Near 22nd & California- check it out if you’re biking in that neighborhood!

  3. Richard Risemberg Says:

    There’s an argument to be made that New York City, and more specifically Manhattan, is the “greenest” in the US. Among the factors supporting the argument:

    1. The transit system, of course; 75% percent of New Yorkers don’t even own cars, the subways are excellent, the buses decent, people of every station walk to work and everywhere else, and now there’s all that new bike infrastructure.

    2. Apartment buildings. Apartments are inherently more energy-efficient than houses, as they share walls, thus conserving heat, and have a smaller footprint per resident, thus saving land.

    3. A legacy of mixed-use development. Housing up, businesses at street level, including small local markets that obviate the need to travel far for almost anything.

    4. Lots of parks. Not just Central Park, but squares and pocket parks tucked in here and there to provide green space for clearing the air and the mind and letting residents mingle in real life.

    Read the 2004 article “Green Manhattan” at http://tinyurl.com/29mkw7 for more. It’s a pretty compelling case for the City That Never Sleeps.

    Many European cities surpass it–Paris, despite feeling more relaxed than NYC has twice the population density and a better subway system, plus VeLib–but you specified US cities.

  4. Kylie Says:

    Great article. I love seeing the parklets that are popping up around San Francisco and hope to see more in the future. Things that come to mind that contribute towards a city’s sustainability include (i) great public transport and cycling infrastructure as well as a culture that encourages cycling or public transport (ii) recycling and re-using (iii) a sustainable food supply (iv) reducing environmental toxins and (v) an overall community consciousness re sustainability. How to measure this? That is a tricky question…

  5. Kristie Shaw Says:

    I’m doing my part in the foothills outside of Sacramento. I write this note from The Wild Chicken, a lovely local coffee house in Loomis, Ca. I rode my orange Public C7 over and have been sitting outside grading papers. (I teach seventh grade history and English and have much to grade before I return to school next week.). I will be riding Loulou (the orange C7) to school a few days a week starting next week. I try to model sustainability for my students, who are young, unjaded, and interested in a vibrant life. I also ride both a mountain and road bike, but intend to create more interest in bikes as a means of transportation. To the market. To coffee. To the neighbor’s house. To the local eatery or pub. And even in the foothills; it can be done, and with joy.

  6. Abi Says:

    Not surprisingly, when you google “greenest city in the United States”, SF is almost always ranked number one. Portland, OR is apparently a close second, and even my hometown, Boston, makes the top ten. What strikes me is that being the greenest city is only as good as its’ parts, namely its’ people. When you attract forward-thinking, conscientious, and empathic citizens to your space, the results are bound to be beautiful. No surprise that SF is number one!
    SF is my favorite city for its “green-ness”, its diversity, and for the people I meet every time I am lucky enough to visit. We use your public transportation, walk many miles a day, and never rent a car. Your city makes it easy to be green.

  7. Duncan Says:

    @ Richard Risemberg,

    I know the argument you mention re. NYC quite well, but it has severe limitations.

    Many of the points you mention are indeed valid, however what is not being taken into consideration are some facts regarding massive scale. True, the urban density of NYC works in its favor, but the incredibly gigantic buildings require massive energy inputs to a.) keep them heated b.) keep them cool c.) and keep them illuminated. There is also the maintenance for super-structures as well, which is astronomical.

    As we move into the future, there will be much less capital to keep such structures maintained, and utilized in their current configuration.

    Also, lets not kid ourselves, NYC has some genuine air problems with “schmutz”-a combination of diesel exhaust, sea salt, & tire particles from the billions of cars that make their way up & down the streets at all hours of the day & night.

    Overall, in the future, I just don’t think there’s going to be the “easy money” sitting around to keep a place like NYC running in its current configuration.


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