An Exploratory Assessment of Parklet Usage in Seattle: Methods and Findings
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This thesis explores the current demand for and use of parklets—small, public spaces built in the curb space typically occupied by a few parked cars—in Seattle. By testing the underlying assumption that parklets are a worthwhile use of limited right-of-way, this thesis characterizes how they currently function as public spaces and if usage aligns with what is considered in the field of urban design to typify desirable public space. This study builds on the concepts established in the scholarship on public life studies and incorporates the methods used by other cities to assess the success of parklets. The objectives of this research are (1) to develop criteria for evaluating parklet success by referencing the larger body of scholarship on public space evaluation and through consultation with Seattle Department of Transportation staff, (2) to understand Seattle parklet usage and determine each site’s success based on criteria established, (3) to analyze the differences between usage across sites, and (4) to hypothesize some likely factors at play that affect each of the parklets’ success as a public space. Methods used include the development of measurements for assessing parklet usage, creating instruments to collect observational data, primary data collection through observational field research, and secondary data collection. This study finds that each of the nine parklets included in the assessment exhibits its own patterns of usage in terms of number of people using the space, demographic diversity of users base, activities accommodated, and the social dynamics of the space. While each site is unique and complex, the functional life of these spaces can be summarized in four distinct categories: (1) thriving public places, (2) popular private spaces with limited public purpose, (3) slower-paced spaces with to-scale usage, and (4) underperforming spaces. Initial results point to possible relationships between usage and the following external factors: residential density, number of customer-facing businesses on the block, and pedestrian volume, among others. The thesis concludes with recommendations for the Seattle Department of Transportation to consider in the future related to the management and evaluation of these spaces, including the clarification of program goals and opportunities for further research.
- Urban planning