Pop-up Parks

Pop-up Parks

By Inga Saffron / Photos by krista jahnke photography
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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