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Parking spaces to transform into small parks

Selected parking spaces throughout Boston will transform from blacktop pavement to recreational oases in the spring as part of a new pilot from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

Menino announced on Sep. 21 plans to build three-season mini urban parks, or parklets, around the city as a part of Boston’s Complete Streets Initiative.

“Parklets will provide a place for you to sit with a cup of coffee or a sandwich from a local shop and enjoy your neighborhood,” Menino said in a press release issued Sep. 21. “You can meet your neighbors and relax in some green space, all in or near one of our main street districts.”

If the first few parklets are successful, the city might expand on the project, according to the press release.

The parklets will be converted from parking spaces to create small patios in three or four different areas around the city, said Vineet Gupta, director of policy and planning for the Boston Transportation Department.

“Our goal is to activate sidewalks in small business districts, make them more pedestrian friendly, provide a place for people to sit and relax, improve the aesthetics of coffee sidewalk area,” he said.

Gupta said the parklets will be platforms installed on existing parking spaces.

“What a parklet does is that it extends the sidewalk another six feet,” Gupta said. “Then on the platform we have seating, maybe some kind of planting, a little barrier to protect it from traffic on the road, those kinds of things.”

The city expects to install the parklets in the spring of 2013 after the formal proposal is issued in October, according to the press release.

The parklets will be open for the spring, summer and fall, said Jacquelyn Goddard, marketing director of Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department. During the winter, they will be converted back to parking spots, she said.

Goddard said the parks would help build community.

“Building community would be the number one reason [for building parklets],” she said. “We don’t need more space, it would be more to have people gather, to be united neighbors.”

The parklets are part of Menino’s Boston Complete Streets Initiative, which was announced in 2009.

The initiative, headed by the Transportation Department, is designed to put bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users on common ground with motorists, according to the Complete Streets website.

By making Boston’s streets multimodal, green and smart the city aims to create public spaces and sustainable transportation networks easily accessible to the public, according to the website.

If the first few parklets are successful, it is possible that the program will be expanded in the following years, Goddard said.

The Boston University campus was the first area of the city to have bike lanes, and there are now 100 miles of bike lines through the city, said Sustainability@BU Director Dennis Carlberg.

“The Complete Streets Initiative is a positive holistic approach to quality of life in the city and sustainable transportation,” Carlberg said.

Goddard said Boston ranks among the best cities in the country in terms of park space and environmental friendliness.

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that ranked the 40 largest U.S. cities on meeting the need for parks, ranked Boston third.

The score, which used data from the U.S. 2010 Census, noted that 97 percent of residents in the city live within a half-mile of a park, and 15.8 percent of property in Boston belongs to parks.

To make sure that these parklets are well-received and will be well-maintained, the city and the Transportation Department have approached interested community groups and local businesses to select the best locations for the sites, Gupta said.

“The other thing that is important to know is that the parklets are open to anybody,” he said. “They are open to the public at large, so their use is not limited to a particular restaurant, much like any public.”

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