Sights and sounds: Parklet causes controversy in Cow Hollow

Rapha Cycle Club’s parklet takes up a little more than two parking spaces. Photo by Alex Reyes/The Guardsman.

By Alex Reyes
The Guardsman
Since the program’s launch in 2010, 38 parklets have been installed throughout San Francisco but the one found at Filbert and Fillmore streets in the Cow Hollow neighborhood has captured the attention of a wide audience.

According to the City and County of San Francisco Department of Public Works, “parklets are an economical solution to the desire and need for wider sidewalks and are intended to provide space for the general public to sit and enjoy the space where existing narrow sidewalks would preclude such occupancy.”

The parklet program, Pavement to Parks, is described as a “collaborative effort” between the Mayor’s Office, the Municipal Transportation Agency, Public Works and the Planning Department.

In May 2011 the San Francisco Planning Department encouraged Community Benefit Districts, storefront business owners, community and non-profit organizations to apply for a parklet.

Rapha Cycle Club, which built the Filbert Street parklet, failed to jump through all of the hoops of the City and County’s parklet procedures.

It followed all procedures save for one — it didn’t have the final permit before making its $40,000 contribution to the public space program.

Rapha’s space for the general public made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jan. 6 edition due to controversy, but the ingenious design of the cycle club’s parklet deserves a second look.

Rapha and Rebar Group, an “interdisciplinary studio working at the intersection of art, design and ecology,” according to its website, sheared a French Citroen H-Van’s cab from its bed.

According to the Chronicle’s story, such a van “in its prior life, picked up competitors who couldn’t go the distance in events such as the Tour de France.”

Rebar Group built a modern industrial 30-foot seating area, which was then inserted between the Citroen cab and bed.

The seating area features inch-thick, cumaru-wood tables and benches, a metal picket fence (that doubles as a bike rack), succulent plants, a low mesh metal back and an elevated seating area set into the enclosed rear of the van bed.

There is a superimposed image of Rapha cyclist looking out over the parklet from the back of the Citroen cab.

Rapha’s parklet delights on many levels.

Cycle club enthusiasts and neighborhood residents alike take advantage of the new seating area, while passers-by stop regularly to admire both the old and modern industrial design.

Some in the cycling club’s neighborhood, however, are not as taken with the new parklet’s look.

“I’d like something a little more neutral,” Supervisor Mark Farrell told the Chronicle.

The supervisor made it clear he was also speaking for others in the area, including more members of the nearby Union Street Association of business owners.

“I’m trying to strike a middle ground,” Farrell said. “Some people want it gone altogether.”

Supervisor Farrell, Union Street Association­­—get over it.

The genius of Rapha’s parklet is its marriage of a classy relic of the Automobile Age with the contemporary desire to rebuild a sense of community.

Indeed, in and of itself, Rapha’s conversion of not just any auto relic but of a Citroen once possibly used in the Tour De France into a bookend for an elegant place for people to “chill” elevates San Francisco government’s parklet’s program to greatness.

San Francisco City Hall was criticized regularly for bogging down its “shareholders” in bureaucracy.

But San Francisco government’s ongoing reclamation of a small number of precious parking spaces to provide more livable public space is as innovative as the Citroen engineers.

The Guardsman