UCLA offers city planners manual for creating parklets, living streets

In Los Angeles, California, city officials are looking at new ways to green the city. A recent resolution passed by the council will allow for the creation of a series of micro-parks around the city to provide residents with more green space. On the heels of the resolution, researchers at UCLA have put together a manual for how to build these “parklets,” creating what they call “living streets.” Researchers hope that the manuals, originally targeted at Los Angeles can also be used in other urban areas, greening cities nationwide.

Researchers have also created a new report, “Reclaiming The Right of Way,” which compiles best practices from cities in the U.S and Canada that have implemented parklet projects in their communities. These projects, which enhance neighborhoods through low-cost, small-scale inventions, were pioneered in San Francisco but have also appeared in New York, Philadelphia, and Vancouver, B.C., among other cities.

“More and more cities are allowing parklets, partly because of this growing demand,” said Madeline Brozen, program manager of UCLA Luskin’s Complete Streets Initiative. The Complete Streets Initiative is the work of UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs which focuses in part on urban planning. The initiative focuses on making the city of Los Angeles more livable for everyone regardless of finances, age or mobility. The approach is cross-diciplinary within the University, pulling in students and researchers from a variety of areas and also employs public-private-partnerships at the municipal level to put plans into action.

“There are a lot of considerations that both designers and cities must take into account—everything from the landscaping and construction materials to guidelines for ensuring safety and security. We hope to be able to provide a resource to help answer these questions and make implementing parklets easier,” Brozen says.

Last year, the initiative put out a living streets instruction manual for the city of Los Angeles, which was the result of a two-day focus group that brought in city and urban planning experts from across the nation. The effort was funded by the Department of Health and Human Services through the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. According to manual authors, the booklet focuses on achieving, “balanced street design that accommodates cars while ensuring that pedestrians, cyclists and transit users can travel safely and comfortably.” Authors also note that they opted for a manual on purpose, as many municipalities lack the resources and mandates to overhaul their own manuals to implement such an initiative and is meant to provide a ready-to-use framework.

The “Reclaiming The Right of Way,” toolkit contains parklet program case studies from around the country, but encourages users to adapt their plans to their own community. It explores a range of designs: some parklets consist of simple tables and chairs, whereas others feature creative landscaping. It introduces the concept of “active parklets,” which include simple exercise equipment to provide an opportunity for active recreation within the parklet. The toolkit is meant to provide helpful guidance to planners and property owners while encouraging creative implementations that fit the spirit of a space.

The toolkit is the first of a three-phase effort, made possible by a $75,000 grant from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation. During the second phase, the UCLA team in partnership with the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council will install an active parklet on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles this fall. This parklet will be evaluated during the third phase, and these data will be provided to the LA City Planning Department for reporting to the City Council.

“These community-driven projects allow for citizens to be engaged in improving their communities in a new way,” Brozen said.