Downtown Bellingham has a new park, and it’s small enough to fit inside a parking space.
Along with a number of industry partners and city officials, the local nonprofit Sustainable Connections has installed a “parklet” outside of La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza on Chestnut Street.
The parklet, which along with an adjacent bicycle-parking area actually fills up two parking spots, is a mini-park designed to give the district an additional public outdoor space, said Rose Lathrop, the green building and smart growth program manager at Sustainable Connections.
“This is a way that we could provide more public space downtown, quick and easy and cheap,” Lathrop said. “It really makes a space.”
Parklets have gained popularity over the past decade, particularly in cities with urban cores that lack extensive park networks. They can be found in a variety of metropolitan areas, including San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
At the parklet on Chestnut Street, Lathrop said the entire structure was created using sustainable, green-building practices.
Benches were built by Bellingham Bay Builders with sustainably-harvested tigerwood decking. Next to the benches sit planters, which are made out recycled propane tanks. The plants are native species.
“In addition to try and promote smart, green strategies and promote open space, we also wanted to promote green-building strategies and try to incorporate that as well,” Lathrop said.
The parklet will be part of a demonstration project for the next two months, as project coordinators gather feedback from business owners and local residents. After that, Lathrop said Sustainable Connections plans to partner with the city and start a pilot program, which will allow local businesses to apply to have parklets installed outside their storefronts.
Rob Camandona, executive director of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, said parklets could be a wonderful addition to the downtown area as long as businesses and residents use them.
“I’m actually really curious to see how it’s received,” Camandona said. “This will be an interesting experiment.”
Camandona said he thinks that even though the parklet on Chestnut Street takes up two parking spots, if locals get use out of it, then the slight loss of parking in one of the district’s retail areas is an acceptable tradeoff.
A lack of convenient parking has for years been cited by downtown business owners, residents and visitors as a barrier to commercial growth and development. Yet so has the lack of public open spaces.
The Chestnut Street parklet cost about $5,000 to install, Lathrop said. With volunteer help, the installation cost was significantly lower than the costs of average installations in larger cities, which Lathrop said could be as high as $25,000.
Since taking up a downtown street parking space is not free, Lathrop said the city of Bellingham has agreed to pay the parklet’s parking-meter charges for the two months of the demonstration project.
Lathrop said there’s a number of possible features and elements of artistic flair that can be used in future parklets.
“There’s an endless amount of creativity that can be used to make those landscaping features,” Lathrop said. “There’s lots of different ways that it could go, and ways that it could address our community culture.”
This article was revised on Thursday, Sept 6, to reflect the following: The parklet takes up one parking space, and an adjacent bicycle-parking area takes up an additional parking space.