Brent Eaton

Brent Eaton

Parklet provides gathering spot

NANAIMO – Outdoor space aims to help liven up downtown.

A new urban oasis has sprung up in the heart of downtown.

Astro turf, beach umbrellas, benches and barstools have transformed asphalt stalls on Nanaimo’s Commercial Street into the pop-up park and patio.

The “parklet” is a page out of the books of metropolitans, like Vancouver and San Francisco, which have been livening up their downtowns with repurposed car stalls and space for residents and businesses that stretch beyond sidewalks.

Those familiar with the trend say it’s all about expanding the vibrancy of streets, economics and connecting people. It provides public seating where none existed and puts more people directly in front of businesses than a car, according to Corry Hostetter, executive director for the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association.

It’s her organization that’s footing the $12,000 bill for the experimental urban space. Half of the parklet will be a patio serviced by 2 Chefs Affair while the other is an open public oasis of colourful beach umbrellas, astro turf, benches and Japanese maples.

The DNBIA will be looking for feedback on the idea of reinvented stalls and new patio space over the next three months and reports that the city is open to looking at permits for more of the parklets.

While the addition of the parklet means two fewer stalls on Commercial Street, Hostetter doesn’t believe people will mind the loss of parking and says there is underground parking available.

“We really want to see if it’s a viable opportunity to create more space for people downtown and that will help business…as well as creating something fun and funky and interesting to look at,” she said.

Tammy Deline and Daniel Caron, the husband-and-wife team behind 2 Chefs Affair, hope people’s reaction is positive to the parklets so there’s more next year. The park and patio add a European flair, allow people to sit and enjoy the downtown, and has given their restaurant outdoor seating.

“To have something like this in places which you don’t have outdoor seating is not only good for the business, but it’s good to get people going out. It’s more of a social thing,” Caron said.

The parklet was designed by architect Mark Ashby to be eye-catching and a little bit audacious.

People can’t help but take notice and it becomes a catalyst for them to interact with each other, he said.

There are not many of these urban patios, “where you can sit and have a cup of coffee without feeling guilty that you didn’t buy it from the restaurant that put the seats out there, that I think is something that has a lot of value,” he said.

The Commercial Street parklet will remain until October.