By Jaimie Julia Winters
While the Glenridge Parklet will be making its way back onto the streets of Montclair, the Walnut Street one may not.
At the March 5 council meeting, council members approved the Glenridge Parklet, but the parklet on Walnut Street was missing from the resolution.
A “parklet” – a mini-temporary park that can fit in any on-street parking space – offers a quiet spot for people to gather and sit in areas where green space is lacking. The parklets are part of a larger effort to make downtown areas more centered around people rather than vehicles, but can be controversial as parklets take up much needed parking places.
Last year, although the parklets for both Glenridge and Walnut were approved in May, they weren’t erected until September and were only up for a about month because the designs had to be approved by the town.
Because the parklets have been built and have the town’s stamp of approval, they only need to be taken out storage and reassembled. Plans call for the one on Glenridge to be in place for six months, May through October, while the council is seeking an alternative place for the Walnut Parklet.
John Sullivan of Bike Walk Montclair describes the parklet as an outdoor living room. Last year, the parklets held events including mini pop-up art galleries, acoustic music concerts, lectures, a moving library and horticultural programs. Groups, such as the knitting club and a book club, used them for weekly get togethers.
Last year, the Glenridge Parklet, with its theme being LOVE, was located across from 217-219 Glenridge Ave., and featured free wifi as well as community seating. It was designed and constructed by Montclair-based designer Shaun Killman.
Local nonprofit, Bike Walk Montclair built the, “Porch on Walnut,” which was more elaborate and constructed in front of restaurants Corso 98 and Red Eye Cafe between Forest Street and North Willow Street. The parklet, designed by Montclair resident Alex Nunez of Colectivo Workshop, served as a gathering spot, complete with seating, planters, pergola and bike rack. It also included a chalk board and sandbox.
It was suggested that the Walnut Parklet go up this year in a pocket park behind Trumpets, near the farmer’s market.
“It’s a just a few feet away from the Walnut property,” said councilwoman Robin Schlager.
Councilman Rich McMahan said putting a “parklet in park kind of defeats the purpose.”
Sullivan said a parklet is built to create a public space “with a spontaneous vibe in an urban area along a streetscape.” It provides a spot to stop and rest and gather for people walking along the shops and restaurants, and encourages visitors to walk, instead of drive, the business districts.
“We are all for rehabilitating that little park. But we built the parklet to fit into parking spaces, along a streetscape. If we were to put something there [pocket park] it would have to look very different,” he said.
“This [Walnut] parklet matters, it changed people’s behaviors — it led to many spontaneous events — music, conversation, hanging out and slowing down. These are qualitative changes that need to be given time and the support to multiply — joining many other endeavors,” said Iain Kerr, who frequented the Walnut Parklet.
Parklets are built according to strict guidelines from Together North Jersey. They must be ADA-accessible with a two-foot buffer between the parklet and the traffic lanes. In addition, Sullivan said, parklets can only be installed on streets with a 25 mph speed limit. Parklets also end up being a traffic-calming device, as drivers instinctively slow down.
Parklets are part of Montclair’s master plan as a possible public space amenity, and Bike and Walk Montclair has been an advocate for spaces building the one on Walnut, while the Glenridge space was sponsored by Montclair Center Business Improvement District.
Mayor Robert Jackson suggested that the Walnut Parklet plans be revisited by the Economic Development Committee (EDC).
Councilman and EDC liaison Sean Spiller did not answer inquiries on why this year the Walnut Parklet would not be erected in last year’s location.
Sullivan told the council he had letters from the Walnut Street restaurant owners stating they were in support of the parklet.
Last year, Sullivan said, the parklets gave a certain vibe to the street especially when they hosted musicians “There’s so much life along these streets.”