Close to 40 parklets have been installed so far, and that number is set to double. Popular support helped the initiative get off the ground. Much of its success, however, stems from a public-private partnership that allows the city to make the most of limited resources.
City planners vet project proposals and oversee their creation, but the cost of permitting, installation, and upkeep is borne entirely by storefront business owners, nonprofit and community organizations, and city residents.
"I don't think there was ever a question that this would be a good idea," Salvadori explains. "The model we've created allows us to get more parklets up and running at no hard cost to the city and it gives people a chance to have a say in improvements to their community."
It may also be good for the bottom line.
In 2011, the San Francisco Great Streets Project conducted a survey of how parklets impact local business. Though the sample size was relatively small, business owners polled said that sales either held steady or increased after a parklet was installed and a number of respondents reported an increase in foot traffic to their stores.
More research needs to be done to determine how parklets shape economic activity. But hard data aside, store owners say they have a certain draw.
"When a project opens up there's usually some type of attention given to it so if you're a business owner, that's guaranteed publicity," comments Madeline Brozen, the program director for the Complete Streets Initiative at UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs. "There's also improved visibility because you're building something that people can see from the street."
Parklets can also act as an extension of a brick-and-mortar storefront.
"One of the reasons we decided to sponsor a parklet was that it gives us a lot of flexibility as far as extra seating," comments Jodi Geren, one of the owners of San Francisco's Four Barrel Coffee. "The space is open to anyone but it also gives customers a place to sit. We probably spent the same amount of money building the parklet as we would have if we added on to our business, but there really wasn't anywhere for us to build. We were completely maxed out on space."
The most common criticism of the program is that it drains city revenue by displacing parking meters.
Sponsors are required to pay an additional fee for each parking meter that's taken out of commission. But it's not enough to fully offset lost revenue. The city doesn't charge more, Salvadori explains, because a decision has been made to prioritize public space over parking meters.
"The argument that we'll lose money from metered parking comes up with almost every project the city planning department works on," Salvadori says. "So it's not particularly different here, but we have never encountered any major opposition. I think this is partly because, by requiring businesses or individuals to sponsor a parklet, we head off criticism from the start. It's not the city imposing anything on anyone, it's city residents actively deciding that they want to build in a particular area."