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Trend: Love the Leftover Spaces

San Francisco "Street Park" Before

One emerging trend in cities is to turn small underused or under-appreciated spaces into green features or social spaces.

Just look at New York City’s Plaza Program, which has transformed spaces through planters, public art, chairs and benches on rights-of-way that had previously been traffic lanes or just barren asphalt areas. New York City transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn has said that you can do “quite a lot with paint brushes and planters,” and that New York has been “able to transform pavement into plazas in just a matter of weeks…..that not only brings quick benefits, but it lends reality to the notion of a greener, greater city.”

"Street Park" After

In San Francisco, the city’s Street Parks program, a partnership between the city and the San Francisco Parks Trust is combining citizen involvement and micro treatments to make vacant lots into gardens, trash and illegal dumping spots into greenery, and hillsides into parks.

In Washington, D.C., a new plan between agency partners seeks to revitalize sometimes nearly forgotten spaces. Sixty-seven percent of the city’s parks are less than one acre, though they account for less than two percent of total parkland. In some neighborhoods, these places are the only ones that are closely accessible, but some have been encroached upon commercially and are eyesores. The Capital Space plan seeks to “develop small park strategies to create a walkable, green network or corridors of parks that can help shape community identity.”

This is really about making urban life more pleasurable, and the way cities treat their “leftover” land can make a real difference in achieving that goal.

A small triangle park in DC was once adorned with green and decorative fencing but now is encroached upon by a used car dealer. (Source: Lib. of Congress left; Capital Space, right)

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