A ‘parklet’ parks it­self on K Street NW

To mixed re­views, Dis­trict al­lows street me­ter spa­ces to be­come zones of re­lax­ation

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MICHAEL LARIS

In the past week, car­pen­ters screwed 10 banana-and-mus­tard­col­ored tri­an­gu­lar planters, a bench and a ta­ble to a ply­wood plat­form tak­ing up two park­ing spa­ces on K Street NW. Then they came back and touched up the paint and put up re­flec­tive safety posts. On Sun­day, ferns and laven­der are set to go in.

And on Tues­day, Washington’s new­est park is to open to the public.

“I told my sis­ter, ‘Hash­tag: It-just-popped-up!’ ” said Randy Parz, one of the builders.

The Dis­trict has started al­low­ing peo­ple to take over park­ing spa­ces and turn them into year­round mini-parks. San Fran­cisco helped spawn such spa­ces, dubbed “parklets.”

They’re part of a take-back-the-streets push to use ur­ban as­phalt for pur­poses other than, well, mov­ing or park­ing cars. Think bike lanes and “road di­ets,” the prac­tice of squeez­ing high-speed thor­ough­fares to a safer scale

with me­di­ans or wider side­walks.

Ad­vo­cates say the parklets — park­i­tos?— are a po­tent way to bring warmth to util­i­tar­ian city streets.

Some both­er­some de­tails are still be­ing hashed out as the Dis­trict ramps up its pro­gram, in­clud­ing who will even­tu­ally cover the thou­sands of dol­lars in an­nual park­ing me­ter fees that are still re­quired by law, even when the only things parked in the spa­ces are peo­ple.

Ryan Flem­ing, who runs the cof­fee and cock­tail shop Slip­stream near Lo­gan Cir­cle, was sold on the idea by the scene along San Fran­cisco’s Va­len­cia Street. The rus­tic wooden ta­bles in re­claimed park­ing spa­ces there helped make the whole ex­panse — side­walk and road­way — feel like a public park, “not just a place to go from A to B,” said Flem­ing, who is hop­ing to repli­cate the idea on 14th Street NW. “In­stead of be­ing like a high­way, it brought life to the whole side­walk.”

But skep­tics see a gra­tu­itous slap at car cul­ture.

“It’s a waste of space. I re­ally do be­lieve so,” said Ter­ence Pen­der­grass, a records as­sis­tant at an in­ter­na­tional elec­tions mon­i­tor­ing group with of­fices near the new K Street mi­cro-park. “Try to find park­ing down here this time of day. I think that’s ab­so­lutely lu­di­crous.”

Sam Zim­babwe, an as­so­ciate di­rec­tor at the Dis­trict’s Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, said the city is treat­ing its first batch of parklets as some­thing of a pi­lot. There have been “grow­ing pains,” he said, not­ing that plans for parklets in Georgetown were de­layed over a city re­quire­ment that a pro­fes­sional engi­neer sign off on the sound­ness of the fa­cil­i­ties, which need plat­forms to be ac­ces­si­ble for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. That sign-off re­quire­ment was even­tu­ally loos­ened. As for me­ter fees, the city is pony­ing up for a cou­ple of years but has not found a long-term so­lu­tion.

Con­cerns about the loss of pre­cious park­ing spots are pre­ma­ture, Zim­babwe said.

“We’re not at the point yet where we have an over­pop­u­la­tion of these things or an over-de­mand that starts to eat at the park­ing sup­ply,” he said. “If we get 10 ap­pli­ca­tions on a street and ev­ery other busi­ness in the area rises up against it, we’ll have to con­sider those trade-offs.”

The young de­sign­ers who came up with the con­cept for the K Street “parKIT” — as in “tool kit for DC parklets” — are aim­ing to lure all com­ers, skep­tics in­cluded, with weekly pro­gram­ming and a bar­rage of good cheer. “It’s like a per­fect op­por­tu­nity for them to go out­side their build­ing and have lunch and have a mo­ment in their day to think about things other than work,” said de­signer Claire Kang.

The site is at 2020 K St. NW in front of the of­fices of the global ar­chi­tec­ture firm Gensler, where Kang and her de­sign part­ner, Laura Carey, won an in­ter­nal com­pe­ti­tion for their park idea.

In ad­di­tion to the place­ment of plants on Sun­day, vol­un­teers from Gensler also will be lay­ing yel­low tri­an­gles nearby with chalk spray, “al­most like dis­pers­ing the parklet onto the side­walk,” Kang said. Although the city al­lows parklets year­round, plans are to dis­man­tle the KStreet fa­cil­ity at the end of Oc­to­ber, given con­cerns about foul weather and the move­ment of snow plows.

In ad­di­tion to the fixed planters that help to set the bound­aries of the space and pro­vide a re­quired safety buf­fer be­tween visi­tors and pass­ing cars, there are a half-dozen mov­able “mod­ules” to use as seats or ta­bles. The plan is to shift the pieces around monthly, guided by sug­ges­tions from visi­tors, Kang said.

The Golden Tri­an­gle Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Dis­trict put up the $15,000 con­struc­tion bud­get and will co-host Tues­day lunchtime civic ses­sions there un­der the ban­ner “Mak­ing the City.” One week, a 3-D printer will churn out a replica of the park. Another week, passersby will be in­vited to doo­dle their own fu­ture parklet de­signs on the backs of busi­ness cards or on Post-it pads.

“It’s an at­tempt to cre­ate a dif­fer­ent kind of energy on K Street,” said Leona Agouridis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Golden Tri­an­gle busi­ness group, which has led a num­ber of street and park up­grades in down­town Washington. “All of us are just run­ning. Es­pe­cially in the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict, you’re run­ning from one place to another. It’s re­ally just kind of nice to stop for a mo­ment and en­gage with a public space. Maybe I’m just a public-space wonk.”

Of course, in the public square, opin­ions are plen­ti­ful.

“This is a place of work. Why would you put a park here in all this traf­fic?” said Vin­cent Thompson, a life­long D.C. res­i­dent who imag­ined chil­dren be­com­ing ag­i­tated as cars speed past in the traf­fic lane.

But many were ready to em­brace the re­for­mat­ted space.

“It will bring a lit­tle touch of feng shui. We need this type of thing in cities, psy­cho­log­i­cally,” said El­iza Moody, a health-care ed­u­ca­tor who was work­ing nearby.

Oth­ers were think­ing pri­mar­ily about their feet.

“We don’t have any chairs. Those are for the cus­tomers,” said Reynold Flores, re­fer­ring to his nearby work­place, the Prime Rib steak­house, where he is a valet. “Af­ter we park cars, we’re go­ing to sit down.”

“I think that’s ab­so­lutely lu­di­crous.” Ter­ence Pen­der­grass, who works near the site of the mini-park and sees it is a waste of valu­able ve­hi­cle park­ing spa­ces

AMANDA VOIS­ARD FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

This “parklet,” oc­cu­py­ing park­ing spa­ces along the ser­vice lane run­ning par­al­lel to K Street NW, is to open for public use Tues­day. Plants are to be added Sun­day to make the space more invit­ing.

AMANDA VOIS­ARD FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

This “parklet” in front of 2020 K St. NWis to open to the public Tues­day, by which time it will be adorned with plants. It will stay open un­til Oc­to­ber.

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