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Richmond Installing Five Parklets Outside Restaurants

Wooden frame with sheer drapes
A parklet installed on N. Adams St, between Marshall and Broad, for Park(ing) Day 2019. (Photo: David Streever/VPM News)

The city of Richmond is testing out parklets, tiny greenspaces built in on-street parking.

Richmond’s first parklets will appear near five local restaurants, including Joe’s Inn in the Fan and Nile Bistro in Church Hill. It’s part of a program the city is calling “Picnic in a parklet.” Patrons will be able to hang out and eat their to-go orders in the space, although parklets are technically open to anyone.

Jason Alley, the chef and co-owner of Bingo Beer Co. and a small business policy advisor to the city, said he’s seen parklets work in other cities like San Francisco, beautifying neighborhoods and bringing in more visitors. Alley said parklets can also be a great way to expand outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s an opportunity for people who want to be outside, who want to mingle, who want to support local businesses to be able do that, even at locations who don’t have outdoor dining of their own,” he said.

The “Picnic in a parklet” program began last June, when the city began working with Venture Richmond to identify businesses interested in the concept.

Max Hepp-Buchanan, head of placemaking for the nonprofit, said roughly 30 businesses applied. Some dropped off or found out they didn’t have an appropriate location for a parklet. The city purchased five prefabricated parklets in December using about $60,000 in federal CARES Act funding. The city’s Department of Public Works will install them outside the pilot businesses for free.

The program isn’t the city’s first experience with parklets. Every year for nearly a decade, Richmond urbanists have transformed on-street parking spaces for RVA (Park)ing Day.

Hepp-Buchanan said he believes the pilot program will encourage more businesses to explore building a parklet of their own, even after the pandemic ends.

“I think once we have these on the ground and people see the transformation of public space and how it can be repurposed for the benefit of the people on the street, the people going to the restaurants, we could see more interest from the business community after this,” he said.

In addition to the five prefabricated parklets, two other businesses in Jackson Ward and Brookland Park have also applied for a permit to install custom-designed parklets outside their shop. Those permits will need to be approved by the Richmond Planning Commission and Urban Design Committee.