ASPEN - The concept of adding "parklets" to the downtown area came up during Tuesday's Aspen City Council work session, but most council members didn't express a lot of enthusiasm for the idea.
Parklets are tiny and temporary parks that can be created by reclaiming a small number of downtown parking spaces. Popular in some big cities such as San Francisco, Philadelphia and Vancouver, they are designed to enhance the overall pedestrian experience in urban settings.
Along with other city staffers, Chris Bendon, director of community development, sought council direction on whether parklets should be tried on an experimental basis. He suggested one on East Hopkins Avenue's restaurant row that would include tables for outside dining - space that would be sold to participating restaurants - and another that would be set up elsewhere for non-commercial use.
The November issue of Landscape Architecture magazine shows parklets as small areas of around 300 square feet, or two parking spaces, with the feel of a living room connected to a sidewalk. They are places where people are encouraged to take a break while eating, shopping or just going about their business in a commercial area.
Amy Guthrie, the city's historic preservation officer, suggested in a recent memorandum to council members that parklets could be one way of tackling the council's stated goal of making movement around downtown a more pleasant, safe and efficient process for all modes of traffic. Pros of building parklets include improved livability, vitality, increased foot traffic, more informal gathering places, street beautification, flexibility (since they are easy to reconfigure based on what works and what doesn't) and relatively limited investment, the memo said.
Councilman Torre - while applauding city staffers for seeking creative solutions to reduce the number of cars in the commercial core - said he envisions a lot of problems associated with parklets.
"I'm lukewarm to this idea," he said. "My biggest concern is fairness and equity about the usage of public right of way and parking spaces. Where the benefit of this would directly flow to the restaurant utilizing it, the negatives are going to impact any other business on that block or on that street that is looking for parking for their patrons."
Torre pointed out that outdoor dining space already has been growing in Aspen in recent years, whether on the Hyman or Cooper pedestrian malls, on the East Hopkins Avenue restaurant row or on Main Street.
"I don't mind an experiment; I'm concerned about an experiment that lasts a season," Torre said. "If you were going to try to implement this in the offseason, maybe that's a good idea, but I'd also be prepared to yank it back out by summertime."
Mayor Mick Ireland, however, noted that a lot of great ideas - including the downtown pedestrian malls - started out as bold experiments.
"They took some railroad ties, blocked off the streets and put in some tables, and that evolved into what we know as the mall today, and I cannot for the life of me imagine downtown Aspen without that mall," Ireland said.
Scott Miller, who heads the city's Capital Assets Department, promised to return to the council in the near future, along with Bendon and Guthrie, with more concrete examples and sketches of experimental parklets and how they could fit into the overall downtown scheme.