The parklet movement has made its way from San Francisco and into the Lehigh Valley.
Parklets are miniature parks built in singular parking spaces. A team of Lehigh students designed their own parklets for Lehigh and the surrounding area. The team’s goal is to change how people see traditional parking spaces, to create a friendly atmosphere and to increase interest in walking.
Karen Pooley, a political science professor at Lehigh, has been a leader in the project for a few years. She teaches urban and environmental planning classes.
“An employee of a design firm went outside with a potted plant and a chair and just fed the meter and sat and just changed the way people thought of that particular space,” Pooley said.
Since then, the parklet movement has swept the nation, first arriving at bigger cities five years ago before coming to the Bethlehem area.
“About three or four years ago, Bethlehem created a program to make it easier for businesses to do that kind of thing,” Pooley said.
The parklets themselves come in all shapes and sizes. Some are permanent installations whereas others can be temporary day-to-day installations.
Pooley said the goal is to encourage more places to sit and meet up with people near restaurants or cafes, which often leads to spending more money at local businesses.
The idea burst onto the Lehigh scene when a student in Pooley’s urban planning workshop learned about the parklets and pitched it to the Mountaintop Initiative.
From there, the project has grown and is now offered during the fall and spring semesters, with an option to be involved with the project over the summer as a Mountaintop project.
Maxwell Frankel, ’19, is one of the students involved in Lehigh Valley Parklets.
“Parklets is a model that is kind of spreading throughout the country,” Frankel said. “They are just completely personal. Some people have a book parklet, some people have a bar parklet. They can be used for performances and cool activities throughout the year.”
Last summer, the team worked on a parklet outside Joe’s Tavern on the North Side of Bethlehem.
Adam Heidebrink-Bruno, ’22 Ph.D, worked on the parklet last summer. As the communications and outreach manager, he helped to spread the word about the project while also conducting observational and analytical work once the parklet was installed. He collected information from the public based on a survey he created and analyzed the data to create an impact report based on the findings. He also made over 2,000 observations of how people interacted with the parklets once they were installed.
“It was really cool and I would just record how long they stuck around what they were doing, just basic street behavior to try and get a sense of how did people act before and then after to see if the parklet changed the street behavior on that block,” Heidebrink-Bruno said.
The results showed that the parklets did have an effect on the community.
“The group last year really did an amazing job of monitoring the progress,” Pooley said. “They did find that it really did change the way that people used that block, which is neat.”
The goal of the parklets is two-fold.
Pooley said parklets are one of many different types of streetscape design elements that cities are adding to encourage people to walk places instead of driving.
“They are the kind of thing you can enjoy best as a walker so they make walking more interesting and they give you more things to do as you’re walking down a particular block,” she said.
Parklets benefit businesses and people passing by.
Although the winter is the off-season for parklets due to weather and snow removal protocols, the next parklet is being installed close to Lehigh’s campus, near Roasted on East Fourth Street. The parklets are usually open from mid-April to mid-October.