Creating a new public space

Photograph of the Fillmore Stoop by Daniel Bahmani

By Nick Kiniris

THREE YEARS AGO, the concept of the Fillmore Stoop was born, with the intention of making the northern stretch of California Street near Fillmore more pedestrian friendly and softening the harsh visual of the busy four-lane highway. The idea was to create a public space where neighbors could meet, relax, take a break from shopping or just hang out.

San Francisco has embraced these kinds of parklets — usually two parking spaces converted into mini urban parks. The parklet movement originated here, but was inspired by beautification efforts in New York that reclaimed dead urban spaces and transformed them into parks and plazas. The idea also takes its cues from European cities, where urban pedestrian zones have always been valued. The parklet concept has since expanded across the globe.

Each parklet in San Francisco has its own flavor. The Fillmore Stoop was designed by architects Jessica Weigley and Kevin Hackett of Siol Studios at Fillmore and Clay. Its multi-tiered sculptural form provides several levels for pedestrians to sit. It both creates more space for people and also acts as a barricade against the busy California Street traffic. The $25,000 project was funded by Chase Bank, which recently opened a branch across the street from the parklet.

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Read more: “The next big tiny idea in urban planning

EARLIER: “Parklet sprouting on California Street

  • Local resident

    Although I am huge proponent of parklets, this one has stirred quite a bit of controversy among residents and businesses:

    1) It seems to be more of an outdoor dining area for Delfina than a general benefit to the area’s residents and other businesses. In fact, Delfina is now stationing its own tables within the parklet, further creating the impression that this is their “real estate”. How is this fair to Dino’s or Curbside Cafe? 

    2) The street-facing side of the parklet, described as a “barricade”, is in fact nothing more than a barricade, both in form and function. Could the architects think of nothing more imaginative than a flat concrete slab emulating actual road barriers? It is an eyesore when viewed from across the street and gives the impression of a construction zone more than anything else. Lame. 

  • Kevin Hackett

    Dear neighbor,

    It’s your local design firm Siol here to address your obvious “Stoop” pains. Alas, this textured fabric we call urban life is complex on many levels. I will briefly endeavor to answer your questions below. However, please do contact us directly if you wish to further delve into the realms of urban planning, restrictive codes and social behaviorism. We have a penchant for debate at our design table. 

    1) This pro bono community project began as a mere seed more than three years ago. We worked closely with the Fillmore Merchants Association and explored the neighborhood for a suitable site that was flat, south facing and in alignment with the City parklet codes. It was certainly a reductive exercise that left us with just a couple of potential sites. Delfina did step up as they were willing to pay the insurance and take care of maintenance on a daily basis. 

    That said, the Stoop is a public venue and was designed so that only a third of its length could possibly be taken up with table seating. You may have also noticed that the parklet is used by the adjacent yoga studio, childcare facility and health clinic.  

    2)  Patience is indeed a virtue. As with the evolution of community, the organic sensibilities of design do not happen overnight. If you were so aware of such an affront to California Street you would have noticed a cable system being installed last week.  We look forward to having glorious vines nesting themselves around our Stoop. However, nature, and human nature
    at that, will work at its own pace, despite a society that yearns for things to be completed. To rephrase the words of John Wheatman, our local legendary designer, “A Good House [Parklet] Is Never Done.”

  • Local resident

    Dear Kevin -

    You beat me to updating my original post: After returning from a week-plus vacation today I did indeed see the new cable system and am thrilled to hear about the incoming vines. This plus the removal of the orange traffic cones – what a game changer! Thank you and forgive me for my initial condemnation – I could have indeed more kindly solicited an improvement as opposed to slamming the effort… 

    Regarding my other point: I didn’t consider that the entire project was pro-bono and instead assumed that Citibank had paid for the project entirely (inferred from their $25k), but now realize that wouldn’t begin to cover all the costs. And I concede that navigating the parklet codes and stakeholder requirements must have been “challenging” to say the least…and required compromise and sacrifice. So, thank you on those counts. 

    Inevitably, parklets disproportionately benefit the businesses in the immediate proximity, but that is certainly no reason not to have them, as the hope is that they add to the overall flavor of the neighborhood. And I do think that is the case in this scenario, particularly with the street-facing design improvements. I can’t say that I’ve noticed anyone but Delfina customers benefitting, so I’ll take your word for it…and since they are covering the maintenance and insurance, it seems fair for them to disproportionately benefit, I suppose. You can’t make everyone happy.

    I am now better informed as to the what/how/why’s around this parklet and appreciate the complexities, your efforts, and the time you took to correct my impressions. I’ll do my part and spread the word. And I’ll try to be more constructive in my future criticisms before assuming that all is lost!