My first encounter with a San Francisco parklet was at Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia a while back. I remember looking at it and saying to myself “Wow, what a revolutionary idea.” Parklets have become a fast-growing phenomenon in many of SF’s districts since then, with outside-of-the-box design ideas that make them a go-to hangout spots for city dwellers looking to get some vitamin D.
I set out to photograph the creative minds behind this growing trend, and in the process, learned how much work goes into the development of a these public spaces. It starts with an idea. Then the respective business must apply for a permit from the city to inhabit a street parking space, which can be fairly time-consuming and difficult. Finally, the parklet comes to life, often with contributions of many people.
Valencia Street has parklets popping up everywhere, so I started my journey on 14th at Four Barrel, where the story first resonated for me. The inspiration behind this parklet is a unique take on the urban balcony, someplace to lean up against the rail with your coffee and watch the passersby. If you’re a biker, have no fear, there are a plethora of racks for your ride on this parklet.
Next I made my way up to the first parklet built in a residential parking spot in front of Deep Jawa and Kimberly Conley’s home on Valencia near 20th. There I photographed the lovely couple, along with the designer Jane Martin, who was especially taken with her clients’ love of dinosaurs. A succulent topiary Triceratops stands tall, surrounded by all manner of fauna, as well as cyads, which the dinos liked to chomp on.
The reason for a parklet in front of their house? Deep apparently knows how to throw a great party, and he also loves to give back some of the awesomeness that the Mission gives to him!
Right off of Valencia at 22nd sits this amazing art gallery called Fabric8, with the current parklet curated and built by artist Eric Otto. Olivia Ongpin, the owner, filled me on her plans to change the parklet on an annual basis to support various local artists. Though it was raining while we were shooting, we had quite the time!
Fabric8 commissioned Erik Otto for their first parklet because shelter and refuge are common themes in his work, and they liked his vision of constructing a tiny oasis that allowed visitors to forget the troubles of their day. In general, they like to think of their parklet as a kid-friendly public art installation, a “canvas” that brings art to the community.
Next I trekked to another part of the city, to the parklet at the Mojo coffee/bike shop on Divisadero at Hayes. There I met Riyad Ghannam, the architect, along with Remy Nelson, the owner of the shop. The parklet was quite the scene, bustling with people and cyclists, and the space was also built with a few extra bike racks to accommodate SF’s bike culture.
The inspiration for their parklet was simple; they wanted to create a place for people that was more valuable to the neighborhood than a space for a car. Their challenge was to do it well for less than 5K. This was the first official San Francisco parklet ever, so they wanted it to be a good model for future installations.
I continued on with Riyad Ghannam to Noe Valley where I photographed him in another one of his first parklet designs, out front of Martha & Bros. Coffee Co. Again, we kind of had to work around some spotty rain, but with luck on our side, the rain stopped and a cute surf family took up residence for some coffee and socializing. It’s great to see the parklets in action, especially once the sun comes out, where they quickly become local hot spots.
With this parklet, Riyad wanted to really improve upon the design of the Divisadero Parklet, with the materials used and the quality of construction. They had more money for the project, so they were able to do both in the end.
Finally, I headed out to one of my favorite places in San Francisco - the Outerlands, near Ocean Beach - to photograph Giulietta Maria Carrelli and Ajax Oakford at Trouble Coffee. In this rad location at 46th and Judah, their parklet was made completely out of found wood. Giulietta and Ajax literally spent a few weeks prowling the beaches for wood, with every intention of maintaining the “recycled” mantra in their design.
The goal of their parklet was to combine land and sea. They built the parklet “like a shipwreck that brings people together.”
I finally headed over to North Beach to photograph Blaine of Rebar Art & Design Studio at Caffe Roma, and I was ecstatic to finalize this photo story with him. Rebar has been incredibly influential in the rise of San Francisco’s parklets, so after touring some of the city’s finest, I was excited to hang with one of the guys who started this phenomenon that has been beautifying the city.
It turns out the city’s parklet permit program was an evolution of Park(ing) Day, which Rebar created to show how much public space we devote to private parking. After helping the city craft its parklet pilot project, Rebar has designed four parklets around San Francisco. Now, they’re watching how people interact with the spaces and are working on the next generation of parklet designs.