Parking reserved, but not for cars
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.”
A “parklet” in Tribeca. The repurposed parking spots are the latest effort to carve out more open space on crowded streets.