“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Chason Gordon
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The other day, I was about to park in my favorite parking spot, the space in front of Montana on Olive, when I noticed some wooden contraption preventing me from doing so. “What fresh hell can this be?” I yelled, as I attempted to take it down with a crowbar. Shortly thereafter, it was explained to me that this was Seattle’s first parklet, a miniature public park that replaces a parking spot. The question then is this: Has the parklet justified itself? Is it a good parklet? Let us see.
To truly experience the parklet, I sat in every chair and stood in every position. My friend was supposed to make a cool time-lapsed video of me doing so put to “New Slang” by The Shins, but he totally bailed on me (damn you, Pete!).
As it stands, the parklet is divided into a sitting and standing section. I’d like to see some research behind this decision, because according to my life experience, people tend to prefer sitting over standing. By dividing up the space 50/50 between sitting and standing, the designers are suggesting that people like standing as much as they like sitting, which is simply not the case. Thus, the parklet, in a misguided attempt to cater to sitters and standers equally, is failing everyone. Why wasn’t I brought in on the design process?
The wooden walls surrounding and dividing the space are certainly pleasing. I can’t quite tell what kind of wood it is. I think that it’s oak or pine or something. Maybe cedar? Spruce? I don’t know. Larch? I just don’t know my woods. Fir? I know it’s not rosewood. I’m very good at knowing when something isn’t rosewood. We had rosewood in my house when I was a kid and it left an indelible mark. Chestnut? Rosewood doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves, because everyone’s too busy talking about mahogany. Alder?
But the walls are indeed nice. The slatted wood allows a relaxing flow, giving parklet dwellers a removed yet open connection to the hustle and bustle of the street (don’t think about this sentence too much). When I sit there, I can still hear the traffic, and see it, and smell it a little, but I don’t feel like its 7 feet from me, and that’s what matters. Incidentally, if you’re a small child from a Dickens novel, you can slip your hands between the slats to stealthily pick a pocket, not that I’m encouraging that.
What’s truly distressing is the “No Alcohol” sign, as all “No Alcohol” signs are. Placing an alcohol-free park in front of a bar is entrapment. At most parks, barring alcohol is understandable. You don’t want drunks like my friend Pete stumbling around, harassing women and giving children unsolicited advice on play structures. “You’re going to wanna go down the slide, kid, because trying to slide up is way harder.” I understand that. But parklets are different, especially this one.
With the narrow space and high wooden walls, alcoholic stumbling can be completely contained. Even the worst of disoriented drunks would simply bounce off of the walls like a pinball, and if they begin to fall, they’d only wind up leaning, because there isn’t room to fall prostrate. That’s reason enough to allow alcohol. At the moment, Montana bar patrons can sometimes be seen placing their drinks on the edge of the parklet, without actually taking them onto it. It just isn’t right to force them to live in limbo like that.
Is the parklet better than a parking space? It’s hard to say. With a parking space, you can park and go do something and then return to your car later and drive home. That’s a pretty sweet deal. With the parklet, you can comfortably eat some food from Kedai Makan, stand and watch traffic, or take a much needed break from walking the steep climb up East Olive Street, using the parklet as base camp. That ain’t bad either.
It really comes down to how you look at it. If you look at it through a car window fogged up with anger, it may not be for you, but if you’re walking along, whistling cheerily, you might as well grab a seat.