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Temporary parklet seating areas became a necessity for many businesses amid the peak pandemic-era, as they adapted to new restrictions and safety measures. But now, as restrictions have all but fallen to the wayside, the question remains as to whether the sidewalk seating will remain a staple in California.

If you live on the West Coast or have visited any of California’s major cities, you have most likely seen parklets in abundance the past few years.

Parklets are curbside seating areas that have been created by utilizing sidewalks and parking spaces. This extension creates added space for outdoor dining and recreation.

From sipping cups of coffee in the fresh morning air to socializing around a table in the starlight, parklets provide people more opportunities to spend time and money at an establishment that might have otherwise been at capacity. This was especially true during the period of mandated social distancing and closed indoor dining.

But parklets are not just for businesses. These spaces can also be designated for greenery, bike racks and open public seating. In fact, these platforms came way before the pandemic, dating back to 2005 as part of a tactical urbanism project in San Francisco that later became more concrete.

“The San Francisco Parklet Program has been in place for over a decade and will continue to accept applications from new operators who wish to create a parklet,” said Robin Abad Ocubillo, Director of San Francisco’s Shared Spaces Program.

This photos shows people utilizing a parklet in San Francisco, Calif.
This photos shows people utilizing a parklet in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo: San Francisco Planning Department)

Ocubillo said the positive impact of parklets go beyond just the individual sponsor by benefiting the entire neighborhood. Parklets have made the streets of San Francisco livelier and its neighborhoods more resilient, while also drawing foot traffic to surrounding shops and restaurants, explained the program director.

“The city and county of San Francisco is working to ensure as many parklets as possible continue operate next year, and years to come,” said Ocubillo. “This means that sites which went up quickly during the pandemic may need to be modified to ensure they are meeting the most up-to-date guidelines for universal (ADA) and emergency access.”

San Diego also has a program in place for parklets. Spaces as Places allows establishments to apply for permits to create outdoor areas for dining, walking, biking, public art, education, entertainment and other activities.

This program was approved by the San Diego City Council in 2021. Temporary pandemic-response outdoor spaces now have an opportunity to transfer to permanent spaces, the city noted on its information page.

Parklets with umbrellas are seen in San Diego's Little Italy area
Parklets with umbrellas are seen in San Diego, Calif.’s Little Italy area. (Adobe Stock Photo)

“Spaces as Places is an innovative program that creatively transforms our public right-of-way while expanding economic opportunities,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “In addition to creating promenades, widening sidewalks and building new parklets, it also provides financial assistance to businesses in historically underserved communities to ensure that the economic and civic benefits of outdoor dining will be enjoyed across all our communities. I’m looking forward to this program creating more dynamic public places throughout San Diego.”

In Los Angeles, the city’s People St program aims to convert small areas of street space into more usable space.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Community Benefit Districts (CBDs), nonprofits, community organizations and other eligible organizations can apply any time to get approval for new projects, according to the program’s information page.

“It is fitting that such an innovative program will be taking root here in Los Angeles, where
we are experiencing a fundamental shift in how we make our city streets safer and more
enjoyable,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in a letter about the program. “I look forward to the many new plazas, parklets and bicycle corrals that will be created by People St, and am excited to continue working with all of our departments to spearhead other creative initiatives.”

Not only does it look like parklets are set to stick around in California, but it also appears they will continue to expand with more being created in communities around the state. As described by Ocubillo, “These facilities have been lifelines for small business owners and the communities they serve.”