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Reflections on a Parklet in Fremont, CA

If you're noticing anything on our social media, it's that Better Block projects certainly seem to have a trend lately. We can't stop building parklets!

In late March, The Better Block team was onsite in Fremont, California to install two public parklets measuring 100 feet total. The installation was the culmination of a road diet project done by the city staff, adding both protected and unprotected bike lanes, inline parking, new areas for public space and bike-focused infrastructure to reduce a 5 lane road down to 3. The installation also kicked off the parklet program for the city, which intends to expand its reach, helping residents and small businesses utilize public space converted from car use to use for people and bicycles.

The first way we did this was by incorporating a simple parklet design that mimicked standard deck construction, an easily understood, nearly universal process for carpenters and construction crews. The Place Fab bracket feet allowed for standard framing while also allowing for quick adjustments during the deck build. These brackets also allowed us to assemble 60 feet of level, secure pergola framing in under an hour. While the brackets would help us level onsite, we knew we would have to rely on ADA accessibility through a custom modular ramp system, allowing for leg adjustments to keep the grade of ramp compliant. We were lucky to have an experienced crew working with us, and it was an easy pivot to a modern, minimalist redwood pergola when one of our awning installers no-showed with our custom metal awning frames. Thorough planning and flexibility onsite continue to be our secret weapons, no matter the project. The parklets are public, meaning anyone can access and enjoy them, however their position in front of two popular Fremont restaurants are a game changer for those business owners: Bun Appetit, an Asian bakery giving their fun takes on donuts, and De Afghanan, a family-owned Afghani restaurant. Increased outdoor space helps these restaurants increase their service area during a time of strict California measures regarding occupancy and indoor dining. Our recommendations for furniture, awnings, and landscaping all revolve around each site's individual needs. Awnings and a pergola structure shade one sunny parklet, and a step and ADA-accessible ramp support the other parklet dealing with extreme street slopes and a shady tree canopy. Selected plantings are drought-tolerant and comfortable in the unpredictable Bay Area weather, but add a pop of color to offset the dark brown redwood. Planter boxes hit just an inch or two above the jersey barriers installed by the city to protect the parklet users, hiding the concrete K-rails from inside the parklet and allowing for a mural surface for local artists on the outside of the parklet.

As always, we have a few takeaways from this project. The first is a reminder that spaces that are good for cars are bad for people. But by putting more thought into the human experience, we can create spaces that are comfortable for people but still allow for vehicles. The second takeaway is, of course, the power of a pivot. Construction plans rarely get executed as designed due to unforeseen circumstances or adjustments that need to be made once viewing the site from eye-level. Finding the right team that can pivot and making plans for plans to get unmade are two critical components to any build project, but especially rapid community transformations. Another successful build! Now, we wait and watch. We listen to feedback from our community partners in the Bay Area. We watch the interest grow from nearby businesses on getting their own parklets. And last but not least, we take the lessons we learned and apply them forward on our next parklet project. Stay tuned!

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