Last week marked the dedication of a “parklet” in Princeton, a phrase that sounds like the title of a children’s book.
The Arts Council of Princeton brought to life the vision of Mayor Liz Lempert by coordinating a group of partners that included sculptors, designers, architects, coffee shop owners and the City’s Department of Public Works to take over 2 parking spaces on one of Princeton’s most busy pedestrian walkways and transform the sidewalk and curb into an attractive and inviting public space.
The short definition of parklet is a parking space sized area used for recreational or beautification purposes. Urban legend ascribes the U.S. birth of parklets to ones in San Francisco designed to provide more open public space in the metropolitan area and part of Park(ing) Day, the third Friday in September.
Increasingly, parklets are emerging in suburbia and providing main streets with not only additional recreation spaces, but taking on the beautification aspect of public art and the economic development element of creative placemaking.
Mayor Lempert knew of Park(ing) Day, supported a pop up parklet last summer and has a strong relationship with the town’s arts community. The Princeton parklet is not a first in New Jersey, as Morris Arts created pop up parklets in Morristown and, as a local demonstration project of Together North Jersey, wrote a guide to help those who wish to replicate their model.
The Princeton team did not know of the Morristown parklet, and perhaps were not aware of other efforts in Collingswood and Rahway, but created their own version using local resources. What is distinctive about all the projects is how they capitalize on each town’s unique flavor and the organic way in which they evolve.
In Princeton, Maria Evans, artistic director at the Arts Council of Princeton, took a leadership role in assembling the project team that included landscape artist Peter Soderman, who was involved with previous installation projects in Princeton like Writers’ Block and Quark Park. Jessica Durrie, owner of Small World Coffee, George Akers of Materials Design Build, artist Greg Napolitan, and architect Kirsten Thoft were also members of the parklet team. However, none of this would have been possible without the cooperation and collaboration of municipal officials including the mayor, planning officials, the Department of Public Works and even the Parking Authority that gave up two metered spots for this project, an obstacle that prevented Morristown from hosting a more semi-permanent space.
Parklet lingerers and passersby who enjoy the cool space mods are encouraged to “feed the meters” to keep public art sustained in Princeton and decrease any perceived backlash as a result of the spaces lost to car “parkers,” a concept ingeniously created by Ms. Evans’ art class students at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. The students also host the parklet’s Twitter account @ptownparklet so be sure to check out the tweets and follow this work in real time.
While the Princeton parklet is scheduled to be in its present site for the next two months, the creative team is already on the lookout for where it can be relocated and have life after Witherspoon Street. The parklet’s dedication on Thursday included music, remarks by Arts Council of Princeton Executive Director Jeff Nathanson and Mayor Lempert who said how grateful she was for the abundance of artists in Princeton and “how amazing it is to live in a town with civic minded artists.”
It was gratifying to hear these artists acknowledged for not only their incredible teamwork but for the shared vision of a town made lively and welcoming through the arts.