Powell St. Parklet

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July 14, 2011

San Francisco's thriving Pavement to Parks initiative—dozens of street parking spaces have been transformed into small, hardscaped parks the city over—arrived on center stage Wednesday. After success outside scruffy Mission District coffee shops and pram-litered Noe Valley, some of the most iconic blocks of San Francisco are newly widened with torqued aluminum raling, drought-tolerant plants, and enough space for pedestrian-choked Powell Street to breathe. The cash came from Audi (more on that to follow) and the design from landscape architect Walter Hood. I walked the eight new parklets with Hood and metal fabricator Scott Atthowe when they were unveiled. Here's what I saw.

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  There are eight parklet sections over the two blocks of Powell St. just north of the famous cable car turnaround. The street is a popular shopping district just south of Union Square that is routinely mobbed by locals and tourists alike. Undoubtedly the widening of the sidewalks, and narrowing of the street, will cause some growing pains, but as an investment in the pedestrian streetscape, this is a wonderful step.
    There are eight parklet sections over the two blocks of Powell St. just north of the famous cable car turnaround. The street is a popular shopping district just south of Union Square that is routinely mobbed by locals and tourists alike. Undoubtedly the widening of the sidewalks, and narrowing of the street, will cause some growing pains, but as an investment in the pedestrian streetscape, this is a wonderful step.
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  Here are Atthowe (left) and Hood (right) as we walked the stretch of Powell. Atthowe is an art installer by trade and Hood is one of the Bay Area's leading landscape designers. They cut rather a different figure than the Audi brass (well turned out in sharp suits, largely), and happily watched as their project was put to use by passersby.
    Here are Atthowe (left) and Hood (right) as we walked the stretch of Powell. Atthowe is an art installer by trade and Hood is one of the Bay Area's leading landscape designers. They cut rather a different figure than the Audi brass (well turned out in sharp suits, largely), and happily watched as their project was put to use by passersby.
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  Right away Hood thrilled at seeing this guy across the street using one of the aluminum tables for his laptop. He enthused about uses for the parklets that he'd not even imagined yet. As to whether there were any that made him nervous he said with a laugh, "skateboarders."
    Right away Hood thrilled at seeing this guy across the street using one of the aluminum tables for his laptop. He enthused about uses for the parklets that he'd not even imagined yet. As to whether there were any that made him nervous he said with a laugh, "skateboarders."
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  There are a handful of different typologies for the eight sections. Here you can see one dominated by planters. Others have benches, railings, and solar panels meant to power the 12 linear feet of lighting in the grating on the ground.
    There are a handful of different typologies for the eight sections. Here you can see one dominated by planters. Others have benches, railings, and solar panels meant to power the 12 linear feet of lighting in the grating on the ground.
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  Hood told me that the design brief was to "express the ideas that Audi represents." The German auto manufacturer ponied up the $900,000 needed for the project and though you could easily use the parklets without having any idea that Audi was involved, Hood took much of his inspiration from their new A7 car. He likened the twisting railing you can see on the planter here to the aluminum chasis of the car. Local garden store Flora Grubb supplied the plantings.
    Hood told me that the design brief was to "express the ideas that Audi represents." The German auto manufacturer ponied up the $900,000 needed for the project and though you could easily use the parklets without having any idea that Audi was involved, Hood took much of his inspiration from their new A7 car. He likened the twisting railing you can see on the planter here to the aluminum chasis of the car. Local garden store Flora Grubb supplied the plantings.
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  Here you can see a bike locked to one of the barriers between a parklet and the street. Hood loved that the space is already being subjected to the whims of a bustling cityscape. When the biker came to retrieve his bike Hood asked somewhat facetiously if he liked the new bike rack. The cyclist replied that it would work better if it were a bit lower.
    Here you can see a bike locked to one of the barriers between a parklet and the street. Hood loved that the space is already being subjected to the whims of a bustling cityscape. When the biker came to retrieve his bike Hood asked somewhat facetiously if he liked the new bike rack. The cyclist replied that it would work better if it were a bit lower.
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  I quite liked the repetition of form on this bench on the east side of Powell St. Not only does it make for a rather hi-tech spot to sit and enjoy a sandwich, but it mimics many of the other forms through the two blocks. The parklets are meant to be up for five years.
    I quite liked the repetition of form on this bench on the east side of Powell St. Not only does it make for a rather hi-tech spot to sit and enjoy a sandwich, but it mimics many of the other forms through the two blocks. The parklets are meant to be up for five years.
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  Here's the only real Audi branding on the eight parklets. It's a plaque on one of the solar collectors. I talked with Audi PR man Andrew Lipman and he told me that the car company loves this project because, "It's a project that solves a problem and gives back to a community that we care about." As to why there aren't Audi rings stamped on every surface, he said that the parklets aren't a massive branding exercise. "It's OK if people don't understand it as 100% related to Audi."
    Here's the only real Audi branding on the eight parklets. It's a plaque on one of the solar collectors. I talked with Audi PR man Andrew Lipman and he told me that the car company loves this project because, "It's a project that solves a problem and gives back to a community that we care about." As to why there aren't Audi rings stamped on every surface, he said that the parklets aren't a massive branding exercise. "It's OK if people don't understand it as 100% related to Audi."
  • 
  One of my favorite elements of the design is that it narrows these blocks of Powell St. to just two lanes. The cable cars run north and south on Powell and suddenly they're very snugly embraced by the expanded sidewalk. This shot shows how near the cable cars now run to the pedestrians. And considering what a traffic nightmare this part of town is to begin with, it's hard to see that the narrowing of the street will cause serious delays. One woman I talked with said, "If you know anything around here you know not to drive down these blocks of Powell." Here's hoping fewer will.
    One of my favorite elements of the design is that it narrows these blocks of Powell St. to just two lanes. The cable cars run north and south on Powell and suddenly they're very snugly embraced by the expanded sidewalk. This shot shows how near the cable cars now run to the pedestrians. And considering what a traffic nightmare this part of town is to begin with, it's hard to see that the narrowing of the street will cause serious delays. One woman I talked with said, "If you know anything around here you know not to drive down these blocks of Powell." Here's hoping fewer will.
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  Here you can see pedestrians already embracing the design. Hood also pointed to a lack of street seating as a problem that he hoped to rectify. And if it turns out that more tables and benches would be nice, "If we need more benches and tables, we'll just make them and install them." Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!
    Here you can see pedestrians already embracing the design. Hood also pointed to a lack of street seating as a problem that he hoped to rectify. And if it turns out that more tables and benches would be nice, "If we need more benches and tables, we'll just make them and install them."

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