Parklets of San Francisco

April 29, 2015 11 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

San Francisco-born urban planning tool offers inexpensive model to promote vibrant pedestrian environments and support local businesses in downtown Jacksonville.

The Economic Case For Creating Vibrant Pedestrian Environments Through Parklets

Photo courtesy University City District

University City District’s Department of Planning and Economic Development in Philadelphia recently released a report entitled The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses. The report can be downloaded here:

The UCD team studied usage patterns for six parklets, all located on commercial corridors in the University City section of West Philadelphia. The report quantifies these parklets’ ability to attract and retain users, the diversity of the users and uses, the impact on the sales at adjacent businesses, and the micro-scale environmental factors contributing to their success failure.  

Key findings from the report concluded that: parklets can attract an enormous number of users (well over 150 unique users over the course of a day in the 240 square feet that could otherwise have hosted just one or two parked cars); that parklet installation coincided with a substantial boost in sales for nearby businesses(an average of 20%); parklets can have substantial spillover effects to nearby sidewalks and spaces; and parklet success can be predictable based on a few key environmental factors.

A parklet in West Philadelphia along with comments from survey respondents. UCD's report states “Parklets frequently became magnets for passers-by who slowed down or stopped to chat, squeezing onto the parklet or sidewalk, and adding to the palpable buzz of activity”

According to UCD’s research, nearly a quarter of users at the most popular parklet spaces were non-patrons of the restaurants directly adjacent to the parklet. This suggests that these spaces hold a powerful multiplier effect. Put simply: the presence of people serves to attract even more people.

UCD also found that there is little gender discrimination when it comes to users of parklets, meaning that parklets do not disproportionately attract more males than females. This is an important finding as the most successful public spaces provide a sense of security and psychological comfort among women. A strong female presence within a given space is often a harbinger for developing a sense of place.

This data coincides with a similar study examining the economic benefits of the nine parklets located within Chicago conducted jointly by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Sam Schwartz Engineering. The data in the report concludes that on average, the businesses adjacent to parklets realized a 10-20% increase in sales and 80% of these businesses reported an increase in foot traffic. Adding credence to the notion that outdoor seating areas contribute to creating the type of third places that make neighborhoods vibrant, 73% of parklet users surveyed indicated that if not for the parklet they would instead be at home. The presence of people increases the likelihood of increased commercial transactions as 34% of parklet users reported that they made unplanned food or beverage purchases.

Courtesy of Metropolitan Planning Council. Icons designed by Jeremy J. Bristol, Claire Jones, Wilson Joseph, Tommy Lau, Hyemi Park, Luis Prado and Klara Zalokar from

The City of San Francisco published similar findings in a 2012 study that can be accessed here:

This study examined public perceptions of streets before and after parklets were installed. The results concluded overwhelmingly that positive perceptions increased after a parklet was installed when asked if the street was seen “as a place that looks clean,” “as a place to shop” and “as a place for socializing and fun.” The report summarizes that the increased pedestrian activity due to parklets made nearby businesses more visible therefore contributing to an increase in commerce along streets containing parklets.

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