Design advice for creating streeteries

Back in the mid-2000s, John Bela became one of the creators of the parklet movement when he and his team repurposed street parking for a small expanded open space, and deemed it a "parklet." In the years since, he's helped pioneer and expand the movement.

We consulted Bela to compile a list of design suggestions for businesses creating their own, more temporary "streeteries" during COVID. Check out his suggestions before (or after!) creating your parklet, to help ensure it's done well.

1. Pay attention to drainage

It's simple, but perhaps the most important of creating a temporary streetery or permanent parklet is ensuring you're not blocking any drains. Bela says "there are just some very basic considerations about drainage against the curb businesses need to keep in mind. The curb performs a pretty important function of directing stormwater."

Clear drains help avoid flooding, and many of the cities that enabled an easy process to create a streetery make good drainage one of the prime requirements.

So, make sure you're not blocking any drains and taking drainage into account. Before designing your space, check the street drain locations, and also try to remember how water drains in the space when it rains, and ensure your parklet design (if it's more than just putting out chairs and tables) can stand up to the next storm, when it comes.

2. Strive to make it level

Level floors don't just help ensure compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act — they also help ensure a better experience for your patrons and staff.

With traditional parklets, creating a space that's level with the sidewalk was almost always a total requirement. With the cheaper and more temporary nature of COVID-inspired streeteries, having a level space isn't as universal.

Some businesses have decided to just place tables and chairs at street level, in the street. But a level streetery will feel like a more natural extension of the sidewalk, reduce tripping hazards and make the space accessible to all.

  • Pedestal supports

    Use adjustable support pedestals, and set them to vary in height. Bison deck supports are great for this use.

  • Taper your support beams

    Similar to installing a deck over sloped surface, you can taper the support beams to match the angle of the parking lane's slope. Stone Deck's guide to tapering sleepers for a deck is a great example.

3. Safety first

It's important to keep safety in mind when designing streeteries for your customers.

Adding buffers between your new space and the street not only visually clarifies which space is yours, and which is for traffic/parking, but can add a degree of safety for an errant car that pulls over too far.

Think: What's immediately next to your parklet? 

Is it a bike lane, a street with slow moving traffic or one of multiple vehicle travel lanes with higher-speed traffic. The faster cars are moving by, the protection customers/visitors will likely expect and want to feel. The City of San Francisco has good guidelines on this. If you're placing your parklet next to a traffic lane, they require a barrier that is: (1) 36 inches to 42 inches high (2) Not easily moved, altered, or stolen (3) Stable and sturdy enough not to fall over or be pushed over (must withstand 250 lbs of force)

Solid wood can work nicely, while water-filled plastic, water-filled wine barrels or concrete traffic dividers are quite sturdy and protective.

Very solid wood benches helps patrons feel more secure

At the same time, Bela points out that "while pedestrian safety and protection from moving vehicles is important, there are very, very few cases where parklet has been collided into by a vehicle." But even if it's just for the peace of mind for your patrons, keep safety — or the sense of it — in mind.

4. Tear down that wall

When COVID-inspired streeteries first started popping up, 6-foot-tall fencing was an incredibly popular design choice.

High fences make this streetery in San Francisco feel small, and closed off.

However, many cities have started limiting the height of streeteries and parklets, and Bela says it's for good reason:

"Parklets that have an opaque wall around them are not a good design solution for a number of reasons. First of all, you want to be able to see at least a little bit of what's going on in the parklet — otherwise it feels a bit obtuse and hidden. Second, there's a public safety issue with high-fenced parklets, where someone could sort of hide behind that wall."

Walls can be helpful, but don't make them too tall. 42" can be plenty tall, and that's a height around which many cities have started to set limits, for the reasons above.

After all, most restaurants have glass windows instead of solid walls for a reason — you want to show off all the fun your patrons are having to passers by, which inspires more people to join in.

5. Make it your own

For streeteries that are not full street closures, and right outside your business, the space is an extension of your business. You should treat it, and decorate it, as such.

Let your business' personality and aesthetic shine through in your streetery.

The Page's streetery in San Francisco (via Twitter)

That can take a variety of forms. We suggest:

  • Looking at the current decor in your business, and see what elements you have in place that you can put outside to match
  • Does the name of your business offer fun tie-ins you can add to your streetery? For example, The Front Porch in San Francisco has designed their streetery to look and feel like a porch.
  • Especially since it's temporary, consider any favorite patrons you want to honor with furniture themed for them.

Whatever you do, just be true to your business' personality.

Colvestone Parklet in London, UK
6. Look up

Just like a restaurant is much more than floor and walls, streetery designers shouldn't forget to think through what's going to sit above patrons' heads.

Madison on Park, San Diego (CaliSota1907)

John Bela told us "some of the the most creative parklets are ones that do something with the 'air rights' above the parking space. One of my favorites is Dandelion Chocolate's parklet, which has beautiful wood bench seating and this cool overhead canopy, like a slight bit of enclosure."

Parklet designers, especially in hot, sun-filled spots, should think installing:

  • String lights, which add to charm everything
  • Sun sails to shade patrons and add a bit of rain resistance
  • Overhead beams or other vertical elements that height the space with transparency
Antz Cafe in Victoria Park, Australia

7. A little greenery goes a long way

Just like with interior design, a little bit of plant life can really spruce up a streetery.

Evelina uses bamboo to add tall greenery (Mike Lydon)

Whether it's via separate planter boxes or by intergrating plants into the design of your streetery's walls, adding even a little bit of greenery can really spruce your space. Especially if you're using one of the plainer design options that has a lot of one color.

Parklet in Grätzloase (Florian Mair)

8. Think through daily maintenance

Like any other outdoor furniture for a business, you'll need to decide which streetery furniture may be subject to theft or damage overnight and needs to be removed after the close of business. Things like lights, small tables and chairs should likely be moved inside each night.