South Orange

Parking Space Becomes Park Space With South Orange Parklet

South Orange, are you wondering what that great new public space is in front of Tito’s Burritos?

Or are you wondering where your parking space in front of Tito’s Burritos went?

“It’s called a parklet,” said Village President Sheena Collum on Facebook.

“A parklet is an emerging trend in public space design that encourages towns and cities to rethink auto-oriented concrete spaces into public, passerby-friendly ‘hotspots.’ So yeah, we gave up a couple parking spots temporarily from carbon producing automobiles (we’re promoting more sustainability in this town, remember? #ParisAgreement) and instead, created a new mini destination for all our residents, businesses and guests to use. This is called ‘tactical urbanism’ – and is very popular in the planning field.”

Collum invited locals and visitors to “enjoy the outdoor space, have a coffee, lunch or dinner, bring some cards, scrabble, or a chess board and most importantly, introduce yourself to those sitting next to you — you never know if a new friend is in the other chair.”

She acknowledged the work of  “the South Orange Environmental Commission (Neil Chambers of Chambers Design)South Orange Village Center Alliance (Bob ZuckermanMatt GlassSteven W. Pedigo) with support from South Orange Village (led by Trustee Walter Clarke), South Orange Parking Authority, Essex County and the generous financial donations from Tito’s BurritosYoni Kreger Saloneventage, and more.”

“I understand some people won’t agree or like this,” wrote Collum, “but I think that discussion can be respectful and appreciative of the many volunteers who donated their time, energy and financial resources to provide our community with something new, exciting, and for the right reasons. I’m so proud of them and I hope you are too.”

Village Green contacted designer Neil Chambers for more information. Here are Chambers’ answers to our questions:

Who/what organizations are behind the South Orange Parklet?

The short answer: me, Walter Clarke, Matt Glass, Bob Zuckerman and Mike Caldarella.The longer version is the South Orange Enviro Committee, South Orange Village, the trustees, the village president, the parking authority, the SOVillage Alliance Committee as well as several local businesses such as Tito’s Burritos, Yoni Kreger Salon, my design company chambersdesign.net, along with several other residents. Tito’s Burritos signed onto the idea long before anyone else and has been a huge support throughout the process.  I can’t say enough great things about how Mike Caldarella stepped up before anyone else was willing to back me on making it a reality….that is except for Walter Clarke and Jim McGowan (chair of Enviro-Committee). They both seemed to never stop encouraging me and believing the parklet would happen.  Bob and Matt both were instrumental in helping me navigate the hurdles of getting all of the permissions I needed from the different business and governmental interests in the downtown.

Who designed it?

I designed it through my design company chambersdesign.net….  It had three major overhauls due to budgetary constraints. I am very grateful that the Village and everyone involved trusted me in designing it, sourcing all the materials and ultimately building it with the help of Walter Clarke.

How much did it cost? Who paid?
It was a true public/private partnership.  We got money from South Orange residents, local businesses, non-profits, and the Village.  I first estimated it to cost around $17K, but through changing the design slightly I was able to reduce that to around $10K. When Walter and I volunteered to build it, the final cost is more around $7K.

What permissions were necessary?

I told a big tent approach to the parklet…meaning, I wanted as many groups, businesses, committees, trustees, authorities and individuals to give it their blessing.  Because it’s not permanent, it didn’t require a building permit. But we did need to get it blessed by the SOVCA as well as the Parking Authority.  We needed a minor specials event permit from the town. We also had to get the county approval which we did.

When did it “open” and how long will it be there?

It was officially opened August 12….  It is a temporary space and will come down later this year but will be back in 2018 in spring/summer. I like to think of it as perennial vs. temporary.

Are any events planned around it? (grand opening/ribbon cutting? music? or is it passive?)

Lots of events planned for the space….we are still trying to get the calendar of events up for everyone to see. There will be an official grand opening…more details on that to come!

What are you hoping to accomplish? What is the mission of the parklet?

I don’t know if it has a “mission” but I did have several goals for it. First, I wanted it to be cool (kinda like the Highline is cool). I wanted it to be cool to add a level of design excellence to South Orange and to be an example that public projects can be have high design quality without a huge price tag.

I design and build lots of yards around this time of year, and, having done so many, I’ve learned that really contemporary/modern projects don’t have to break the bank.

Also, a big part of the goal for the parklet is to have another reason for people to come to the downtown. The parklet is a public amenity and there’s plenty of research that shows they generate revenue for businesses around them.

Second, I wanted it to be as sustainable as possible. Sustainability and ecology are just part of my design DNA…and I wanted it to be hardwired throughout the parklet’s design from the materials to the execution.

Third, the parklet is about the South Orange community, and for me, it is one of 4 projects I’ve been developing throughout South Orange to promote nature, education and a transition from old thinking about landscapes to a new way of interacting with exterior spaces as well as making change tangible. The other projects are the RainPark (coming soon), the South Mountain Annex (where I’ve been working with a bunch of amazing parents, teachers and administrators to bring nature closer to the kindergartens and 1st graders), Rapid Lounging (coming soon too) and the parklet (open now).

The parklet is the result of both topdown and bottom up partnerships where it couldn’t happen unless there’s a community of support around it. I want all of these projects especially the parklet to be both a super cool place to seat alone or gather with friends to enjoy life as well as a statement that a more sustainable, inclusive world is just waiting to be materialized.

Read about last year’s inaugural parklet here:

South Orange Transforms Parking Spaces Into Park Land for PARKing Day

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