Hutton Marshall | Contributing Editor
Downtown Partnership unveils winning design for ‘mobile parklet’
On Sept. 3, the Downtown San Diego Partnership (DSDP) selected design plans for a “mobile parklet” that will soon find a nomadic home in Downtown San Diego.
Parklets, or miniature parks, are an increasingly common urban strategy to utilize scarce outdoor space in dense urban areas. Mobile parklets go one step further, in that they can be moved and adapted to various nooks and crannies outdoors.
The DSDP, a nonprofit dedicated to urban and economic development, touted mobile parklets as a new strategy to bring more visitors to the neighborhood.
“It’s really interesting way to look at space differently and tap into San Diego’s creativity,” said Kris Michell, President and CEO of DSDP. “It’s a really playful way to say ‘what could we do with this space.’”
The design is the result of a summer contest tag-teamed by the DSDP and the City of San Diego. It invited local architects and designers to submit their proposal for a versatile space constructible on a $5,000 budget.
The contest received 20 design submissions. Eleven were deemed valid and three were chosen as finalists. Following a Facebook poll among the three finalists, the Downtown Partnership announced the winning design, “The Boardroom,” created by Kate Goodson, Scott Hook and Joshua Larson, three recent graduates of San Diego’s NewSchool of Architecture and Design.
“We wanted to tap into the movements that were already happening Downtown … to create more collaborative spaces in an urban context — taking the boardroom out of the tower and onto the street,” Goodson said.
The local designers spent just one week developing the concept and visual rendering. They now have just over two weeks to use a $5,000 prize from the city to turn the concept into reality. On Park(ing) Day, Sept. 19, the completed space will be showcased to the public at Civic Center Plaza.
But the team must go beyond simply constructing the space. The parklet needs to be fluid and adaptable to the many spaces DSDP plans to use it in. Goodson said this means constructing it in a modular fashion, where pieces can be added and subtracted by a two-person team while still preserving the “heart of the design.”
“I think the advantage is that it could work anywhere,” Goodson said.
Goodson, Hook and Larson work at different design firms in San Diego, each having graduated from NewSchool earlier this year. The competition’s prize will go solely to funding the parklet’s construction, so the project has been done on a volunteer basis. Goodson said the project was about contributing to the vibrancy of Downtown, not about financial gain.
“We’re donating our time to this, and the Partnership is going to take ownership [of the parklet after it’s completed], but as local designers we’re really invested in improving our city and its urban environment,” Goodson said.
Michell said the exciting part of such a project is the uncertainty of how exactly it will be used.
“It’s an experiment on how we can best use our public space,” she said. “So this allows us to rethink that but on a grand scale.”
The idea is a continuation of a new urban development strategy known as “tactical urbanism,” which uses a fast-acting, fluid approach to urban planning. In practical application, tactical urbanism involves the creation of impromptu urban spaces, making “The Boardroom” parklet a handy tool in the tactical urbanist’s arsenal.
“This is new territory for the city of San Diego,” Goodson said. “We have a few more parklets and a few more plans, but making it mobile is a whole new concept, so I think this is an exciting new movement that we’re a part of [and] a potential catalyst for the city.”
Learn more about the Downtown San Diego Partnership’s tactical urbanism and mobile parklet goals at downtownsandiego.org.