ParkMobiles: a perfect fit for winter cities

Quick, time to employ your detective powers! Just what is shown in the above picture?

Do you see two people sitting on a bench built into a planter?  Look closer, notice how thin the planter walls are; they certainly aren’t concrete. And it looks sort of hollow under the planter. And the little tag over there on the right: it says Public Parklet.

What you are looking at is the first of six ParkMobiles  rolled out in San Francisco in August. Defined as “robust moveable containers with lush gardens”, they could equally well be described as “dumpster flower boxes”.  Yup, you are looking at a modified 16’x6’x40” dumpster. Each one has been planted with a different garden theme, and then plunked down in central San Fran to fill up one space otherwise occupied by a parked car.

Cars are ubiquitous in our downtowns. They use up 70-90% of the public space. This ParkMobile recovers some of that space, for a temporary period, as a park. The bench effectively widens the sidewalk and provides additional amenity space, which is sorely lacking on narrow sidewalks.

These portable gardens are especially useful in Canadian cities, where street side planting space is adversely impacted by snow plowing and clearing operations, salt contamination, and the six month growing season. These parklets can appear when the snow melts (April  or June, depending on your local geography), provide fair-weather pleasure, and then be trundled off at the end of October as sidewalk lingering winds down. Or, they can relocated numerous times during the season at minimal cost.

They can provide visual pleasure and eye relief and attract crowds too. Galleries, condo sales offices, special events … it is easy to imagine a number of situations where a green bin marketing effort would be really worthwhile.

The San Fran bins shown are all brand new bins. Presumably this contributed to some of the $12,000 each (planted) cost. I suspect they would equally attractive if made from a superannuated pre-bashed-up dumpster, which probably already has drainage holes in place. The bin would have to be steam cleaned first; painting optional. Speaking of paint, why not use the walls of the bin as a canvas?

These bins are not without some issues. Armrests on the bench would deter sleepers. Traffic festishists might insist on bollards, flashers, and other clutter to “keep motorists safe”. No doubt they will attract their share of discarded litter – the urban equivalent of going to weed. They might even be subject to vandalism – following Nuit Blanche in Toronto this year, I was appalled to find vandalized and trashed planter boxes around my hotel opposite Nathan Phillips Square

But then, no urban progress is without some contention. Our downtowns are defined by competing interests for scarce space. Motorists have won that war on public space for decades. ParkMobiles might just stem the war, if only for the summer months.

Where do you want yours?

images used in this post along with more information on ParkMobiles can be seen at  www.cmgsite.com/projects/urban-spaces/parkmobiles;