The parklets were supposed to be a social hub, a nexus of activity, a tiny urban oasis where locals could gather to chat, read, sip coffee, tap away on their laptops, or simply enjoy being part of a metropolitan streetscape.
Instead, Boston’s two parklets — on-street parking spots that the city converted into mini-parks by adding benches and plants — landed with a thud.
Since the city installed a parklet in Jamaica Plain at 351 Centre St. and another at 1528 Tremont St. in Mission Hill in early September, at the cost of between $15,000 to $25,000 each, observations from abutters, passersby, and Globe reporters suggest that they are hardly the happening spots in town.
So how come? Was it the design?
Some nearby residents said they believe potential parklet-goers were deterred by the uncomfortable benches — the parklet in Jamaica Plain features curved, half-moon shaped seating — the parklets’ proximity to street traffic, or confusion about whether they were allowed to use them.
Vineet Gupta, the Transportation Department’s planning director, cited a handful of reasons that the parklets haven’t been as popular as hoped. For one, Tacos el Charro, a restaurant near the Jamaica Plain parklet, closed unexpectedly. Without a bustling business in close proximity, Gupta said, there was less of a reason for people to linger.
Transportation experts say the lackluster performance of the two parklets speaks to the challenges of innovation by city agencies. When public space projects aren’t a home run, they’re quickly maligned — and public scorn makes transportation officials wary of experimenting with new ideas in the future.
Are parklets something that has to come from the community?
Brendan Crain, spokesman for the Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based nonprofit that promotes use of urban spaces to build community, said the mark of a good public space project is not whether it is immediately successful, but whether the project coordinators listen to residents on the best way to fix it.
Or is just a matter of time?
“This is true for parklets, it’s true for bike lanes, it’s true for bus lanes — it’s true for any innovation in the transportation world,” Gupta said. “Initially, you don’t see the kind of use that one would hope, but things pick up.”