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Voice of San Diego recently reported a shortfall of parklets constructed in San Diego, only two in the last three years. They compared San Diego to San Francisco, where parklets originated, and where 60 parklets have been constructed.

The difference is all in the approach.

At Circulate we have been studying creative placemaking in cities across the U.S. and have found that a user friendly process is key to success. San Francisco for example, created a Parklet Manual to outline the permit process and encourage more applications, especially from neighborhood folks who have not typically gone through a permit process before. Cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have followed the example.capture_parklet_manual_san_fran.jpg

San Francisco’s Parklet Manual is 76 pages long. The first page outlines program goals:

- Re-imagine the potential of city streets
- Encourage non-motorized transportation
- Encourage pedestrian safety and activity
- Foster neighborhood interaction
- Support local businesses

Next, a diagram (see below) illustrates the step by step process including the city’s responsibilities, expectations of the applicant, and a general time frame that can be expected. This step by step process is then further explained and illustrated through diagrams in the next 60+ pages. The guide is filled with colorful, demonstrative photos.


In comparison, San Diego’s Pedestrian Plaza Information Bulletin is four pages long with one diagram on the last page. It does outline the types of permits needed to build a parklet, but for individuals not familiar with the City’s permitting process, it can be quite intimidating. And, it is not quite a one-stop-shop. At least two types of permits are required for a parklet, and there are other differences, too. We dug a little to compare the two cities’ processes for getting a parklet permit.

San Diego:
• Managing Department: Development Services Department
• Permit Type: Neighborhood Development Permit or Site Development Permit + Public Right of Way Permit + Maintenance Agreement
• Permit Cost: Minimum $2,000.00 
• Public Hearing Requirement: Required with permit
• Insurance Requirement: $1,000,000 general liability coverage minimum

San Francisco
• Managing Department: Partnership among Planning Department, Municipal Transportation Agency, and Public Works Department
• Permit Type: Specialized Parklet Permit
• Permit Cost: Minimum $258.00
• Public Hearing Requirement: Required only if an objection is filed during public notification period
• Insurance Requirement: $1,000,000 general liability coverage minimum

All this being said, the City of San Diego can actively reexamine its parklet policy. As other cities have advanced and improved the process, San Diego can look to evolve and learn from these other examples.

If San Diego wants to see more parklets or “Pedestrian Plazas”, it can follow the lead of San Francisco by lowering the initial permit cost, creating a user-friendly guide meant for applicants new to Development Services, and creating a one-stop shop for this type of creative placemaking. This means taking a detour from the types of dry informational bulletins historically produced by the City and creating an application process with community members (non-developers) in mind.

Communities across San Diego want more of these creative placemaking projects – things like park benches, intersection murals, neighborhood game areas, and gathering spaces. We have been talking to organizations involved in these in recent months and will soon release case studies on the challenges and opportunities involved with permitting for these projects. Stay tuned.