Pop-up Parks

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By Inga Saffron
Eager for public space, communities re-create their streets as temporary cafes, playgrounds, and bike lanes.

Truck in potted trees. Set up cafe tables. Paint in some bike lanes. The temporary streetscape might be the perfect urban fix for our times. Because pop-up spaces enable cash-strapped cities to create parks and plazas without spending a bundle, they’ve become a form of instant municipal gratification. Temporary parks allow cities to test-drive new public spaces, says Prema Gupta, who masterminded several instant parks in Philadelphia. "We don’t have to wait four years to get a great public space."

The concept grew out of the pavement-to-parks movements in New York and San Francisco. "We talked about using the parking lane for something other than storing vehicles," explains San Francisco Pavement to Parks project manager Andres Power. "We liked the notion of being playful with the street." Thus was born the "parklet," a cross between a terrace cafe and a pocket park that occupies one or two curbside parking spaces. Temporary oases have surfaced nationally and internationally, but San Francisco leads with 24 and has 30 more instant parks in the works.

Temporary streetscapes have expanded beyond basic seating and greenery. On summer weekends, residents of Queens, New York, close a busy block to cars and turn it into a "play street," with free movies and yoga classes. After Philadelphia replaced its parking meters with automated kiosks, the old meter heads were retrofitted with decorative rings for locking up bikes. No two instant streetscapes are alike. However, the public’s response is, generally, universal: overwhelming approval.

From Vancouver, British Columbia, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, these three guerrilla landscapes stand out from the crowd.

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Visitors emerging from the Vancouver Art Gallery may assume that Picnurbia (above) is another art piece. Not quite. The colorful, wavelike structure is a temporary picnic grove in the heart of downtown that features festive umbrellas and cozy spots to spread out an al fresco lunch. picnurbia.com

Better Block Project
Fed up with a block of vacant commercial buildings in Dallas’s Oak Cliff section, residents organized a one-day demo of the street’s potential, installing trees and benches, and populating the block with pop-up shops. Now, almost all the storefronts are occupied. betterblock.org

The Porch
To slow traffic outside Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, the city widened the adjacent concrete median and created an outdoor waiting room called the Porch, with cafe seating, umbrellas, and planters. Completed in 2011, it’s now a popular venue for concerts and a farmers’ market.