Park­ing re­served, but not for cars

Toronto Star - - WORD WEEKLY | DISPATCHES - WIN­NIE HU THE NEW YORK TIMES

Prime park­ing space on a teem­ing block in Man­hat­tan’s gar­ment dis­trict is re­served for peo­ple, not cars.

A cedar booth that would be per­fect for loung­ing on an out­door deck sits on top of two park­ing spots, flanked by a for­est of bam­boo, be­go­nia and potato vine. It showed up ear­lier this month, break­ing up the line of de­liv­ery trucks and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles at the curb.

“It kind of gives me a serene mo­ment in the midst of all the chaos,” said Ja­son McCoy, 28, a pub­li­cist, who was parked there for his morn­ing cof­fee. He also has taken phone calls and met with clients, and even posted a photo of his new hang­out on In­sta­gram.

The re­pur­posed park­ing spots are the lat­est ef­fort to carve out more open space on New York City’s crowded streets and side­walks. These blink-and-miss-them bits of green­ery — called “street seats” — have spread along com­mer­cial cor­ri­dors, though they are of­ten over­looked or over­shad­owed by sprawl­ing pedes­trian plazas. In con­trast, street seats are tiny and tem­po­rary, re­turn­ing to park­ing spots come win­ter.

“Their charm is that they are not a lot of work, and not par­tic­u­larly big, but they re­ally en­hance the street,” said Polly Trot­ten­berg, the city trans­porta­tion com­mis­sioner. “It’s a rel­a­tively nim­ble way to re­claim pub­lic space.”

There are18 pop-up street seats this sum­mer, dou­ble the num­ber from 2015, ac­cord­ing to the city. They range from one in Tribeca that at­tracts moms and tots in strollers to an­other in Brownsville, Brook­lyn, that has be­come pop­u­lar for al­fresco din­ing. In a hands-on les­son in ur­ban plan­ning, stu­dents at the Par­sons School of De­sign at The New School in Green­wich Vil­lage have de­signed a street seat with droughtre­sis­tant plants that draws about 250 peo­ple daily.

The street seats grew out of a move­ment that be­gan in San Fran­cisco in 2005 when mem­bers of an arts col­lec­tive called Re­bar trans­formed a park­ing spot with grass turf, bench and pot­ted tree, and in­vited passersby to feed the me­ter. It in­spired a day­long cel­e­bra­tion, known as Park(ing) Day, in which peo­ple took over park­ing spots. Later, a new gen­er­a­tion of curb­side mi­cro parks, or “parklets,” was born.

New York’s ver­sion of the parklet is the re­sult of a part­ner­ship be­tween the city’s trans­porta­tion depart­ment and lo­cal groups, in­clud­ing real estate de­vel­op­ers, prop­erty own­ers and small busi­nesses, in­clud­ing cof­fee shops and pizze­rias. These groups pay for the street seats, which typ­i­cally cost be­tween $10,000 and $20,000 each, with the city of­ten re­im­burs­ing at least some of the cost, and are re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing them.

While each street seat typ­i­cally takes up two park­ing spots, the ben­e­fits of serv­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple a day — ver­sus a hand­ful of cars — have out­weighed any con­cerns over lost park­ing, said Shari Gold, a se­nior man­ager in the trans­porta­tion depart­ment. She added the depart­ment ap­proves a street seat only with the agree­ment of the lo­cal com­mu­nity board, nearby busi­nesses and prop­erty own­ers.

Manuel Vil­lalo­bos, 56, a fur­rier whose van was re­cently parked next to the street seat in the gar­ment dis­trict, said that he did not mind be­cause it only took away a spot or two. “It’s ac­tu­ally nice, you see more green,” he said. “Some­times you have to give a lit­tle to get a lit­tle.”

DA­MON WIN­TER/THE NEW YORK TIMES

A “parklet” in Tribeca. The re­pur­posed park­ing spots are the lat­est ef­fort to carve out more open space on crowded streets.

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