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Rosslyn Opens ‘Parklet,’ Kicks Off Experiment in Adding Green Space to Urban Areas

by Alex Koma May 31, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

Arlington’s first “parklet” is now open to the public, providing a small splash of green space amid Rosslyn’s urban landscape — and perhaps giving county officials a new tool for adding more open spaces across Arlington.

Rosslyn’s Business Improvement District teamed up with the county to design the mini-park, located adjacent to the Roti Mediterranean restaurant at the intersection of Wilson Boulevard and N. Oak Street. Starting today (Thursday), anyone can take advantage of the parklet, which is just 30 feet wide — about the size of two parking spaces.

These sorts of mini-parks have become increasingly popular in heavily populated cities like New York and San Francisco, and Arlington tested out a temporary parklet at the same location last fall for PARK(ing) Day, an international event for cities to experiment with temporary green spaces built in parking spaces. Now, planners are hoping to make this parklet permanent, and even set up more elsewhere to help compensate for the county’s dwindling supply of available land.

“Cafe seating used to be the sum total of outdoor seating around here,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “But we know that mixed-use places need mixed-use spaces.”

Lucia deCordre, executive director of the Lee Highway Alliance and an architect of the parklet project back in her days working with the Rosslyn BID, says she came to the idea of creating a parklet like this as she started working on improvements to Rosslyn’s streetscape. As the BID looked at ways to add new benches and bike racks to make its streets more attractive, deCordre says her team “realized we needed to do something for pedestrians.”

“It’s all about helping create an identity for Rosslyn,” deCordre said.

She says the BID selected the space next to Roti because it didn’t have much existing sidewalk seating, and they needed “somewhere safe,” without too much vehicle traffic to test out  a parklet. Ultimately, N. Oak Street ended up being an ideal side street for the mini-park to sit next to, deCordre said.

But she didn’t want to simply see a few tables added to the sidewalk. She also wanted something that was both “flexible” and “user friendly,” so she made sure to include lots of greenery as well — the parklet includes a total of 18 chairs, five tables and four planter boxes.

“This should really boost retail here, but also bring together different stakeholders in the community,” said Mary-Claire Burick, the BID’s president. “And it’s particularly valuable here where open space is at a premium.”

Doug Plowman, the BID’s urban planning and design manager, is hoping that everyone from Rosslyn residents to tourists take advantage of the parklet. But he also says the BID is keeping an open mind on the matter — he’s looking at this space as a two-year prototype, and each table directs visitors to an online survey so they can share their thoughts on the space.

“Is it workers using it, or residents?” Plowman said. “How long are they staying here? Should it be bigger or could it be smaller? This is all stuff we want to know.”

Cristol says county leaders will certainly be monitoring that feedback closely.

As the county increasingly grapples with development gobbling up green space — not to mention a financial squeeze that could prevent Arlington from buying up any new park land over the next decade — Cristol fully expects that plans for more parklets could wind up included in the County Board’s long-planned update of Arlington’s Public Spaces Master Plan.

“The old model of creating green space in retail corridors is getting tougher,” Cristol said. “So let’s bring it on, and do these sorts of public-private partnerships to get creative. This is our first foray into that.”

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