The City of Hattiesburg – particularly the downtown area – may soon initiate the concept of parklets, which are parking spaces in rights of way or in front of businesses that are converted to spaces for pedestrians.
The matter was proposed at an Oct. 6 work session of Hattiesburg City Council by Ginger Lowrey, who serves as planning division manager at Hattiesburg’s Urban Development Department.
“As an urban planner, I love that idea of creating more space for people, especially in an urban environment,” Lowrey said. “With the onset of COVID and social distancing requirements, this is really going to be an opportunity that is very timely for us to pursue.
“What we’re going to do, is if a business wanted to expand their outdoor seating, and they don’t have an opportunity within their property boundaries, we can look at public parking spaces that are already existing. Then we’ll work with them on designing and creating a space that they can use for customers.”
Lowrey and her staff would go through existing site plans and work with engineers to ensure any developments are safe and that there would be no drainage or engineering issues. That team would look at measures such as proximity to a public parking space, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, compatibility with surrounding developments and design needs.
“It would be an opportunity to create that new space out in front of a business,” Lowrey said. “Ultimately, if this were something that were agreeable and appropriate, it would come to the city council for approval, just as other parking spaces (have) for rental.
“There have been some parking spaces that have been approved through city council for rental from a private business renting a public parking space. So, we’re looking to piggyback on that same type of agreement, and it could be renewed annually to make sure that it’s still appropriate in that location, that the business is still there, and that the infrastructure is still safe.”
Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden said she recently saw the parklet concept in Park City, Utah, and she agreed it would be a good idea for Hattiesburg.
“The way that it works there is they close the downtown streets only on the weekend, and some of the parklets stay, but a lot of them are just temporary,” she said. “It was amazing, and all of these people were so enjoying being outside; it really works well, and I was thrilled with the concept.
“I would love to see our downtown streets closed like every Saturday, for a long enough period of time for people to get in the habit of coming to downtown and knowing they can count on businesses being open. Anything that encourages that is a good thing to see.”
Parklets typically extend out from the sidewalk at the level of the sidewalk to the width of the adjacent parking space, and offer a place to stop, sit and rest while taking in the surrounding activities. Parklets also may accommodate bicycle parking, greenery, art or other visual amenities.
San Francisco has been credited with introducing the first parklet. The first one-day parking installation was created in that city’s downtown in 2005 as an unofficial activist project by feeding a parking meter with coins, unrolling grass sod and placing a potted tree on top.
“I think it’s one of those progressive things that we should absolutely be looking at,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “When we first opened dining back up after the shutdown (caused by COVID-19), we first allowed outdoor dining.
“We said that if restaurants wanted to go and convert some parking spaces into outdoor dining areas, that would be okay. This is a more permanent way of doing that, so we look at if a certain place is suitable for that, and how we as a city partner with the individual restaurant to figure out what is the safest, most attractive way we can make these things happen.”
Barker said Congress Street in Jackson has a good model of parklets, and he thinks areas like downtown and Mobile Street would be a nice fit for the concept.
“Those are ripe for us to try new things like this, because that sets a good city apart from others,” he said. “We’re thinking forward.”