Tag Archives: placemaking

Retro Look at Saving Neighborhoods

The Lucy Show featuring Lucille Ball back in the late 1960s took on the issue of highways destroying neighborhoods.  In the way that only Lucy can, she falls in love with the joys of small businesses and takes on the banks, developers and misguided political leaders, taking  to the streets in a musical takeover for change.

Part 1 of 3


Part 2 of 3


Part 3 of 3


Meet the Parklet

Special article by Alexandra Reisman for Union Square Main Streets

Parklets, quite simply, are very tiny parks with seating. They often provide outdoor space for nearby cafés and restaurants, bike racks, planters, and other amenities. This kind of small-scale project has successfully enhanced public space in other communities and could prove beneficial for Union Square too. Behold:

A parklet in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. 

The first parklet in Southern California opened very recently on Long Beach’s Retro Row.
Philadelphia’s first parklet, opened in 2011 in the University City neighborhood. Movable furniture and other materials make it so that parklets can be installed first as a temporary trial or only on a seasonal basis.

These cozy, inviting pedestrian niches have been carved out of car parking space—typically one parklet equals two former parallel parking spaces. The annexation of parking space makes the parklet a thrill and a novelty for many. What was previously an unmemorable slot for a car (usually hosting just one or two shoppers) may now be a lively common space for many neighborhood residents and patrons. So, though it’s actually a relatively minor intervention, the parklet symbolizes a much larger movement in which cities aim to be more walkable and pedestrian-friendly, and therefore less car-oriented.

 San Francisco has led the parklet movement since 2009. This is its first parklet outside the Mojo Café on Divisadero Street, originally a 6-month pilot project. The café provides daily maintenance for the parklet, though seating and bike parking is open to the public.


San Francisco’s second parklet. 






Of course, removing car parking in a business district, for any purpose, always raises at least a few eyebrows and often invites criticism. After all, car parking is important for accommodating patrons from other parts of the city or the suburbs. This is especially so in Union Square, which is increasingly a destination for people from outside of the neighborhood and, though fairly well served by buses, still awaits the Green Line.

Yet, for the price of a few lost parking spaces, a well-placed parklet can do a lot of good. By providing seating, some pleasant greenery amid the urban grey, and a semi-protected space, it becomes an “outdoor room,” not merely an extension of the sidewalk. It invites people to linger, making a whole block more convivial. And its location on the street encourages cars to slow down, making the area feel safer and more comfortable to pedestrians.

This one’s neat: another San Francisco parklet. 

Conviviality and walkability benefit businesses by making the whole business district a more desirable place to be. As the urban scholar William Whyte meticulously observed, “People tend to sit most where there are places to sit,” and, relatedly, “What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.” And because people want to be where they not only can rest, but also where they feel safe and welcome, the design and placement of a parklet are vital for its success. A parking space that has been merely cordoned off wouldn’t, by itself, do the trick, but it does provide 120 square feet of newly usable public space that can be developed in myriad ways.

Check out some photos from international PARK(ing) Day for examples of some of the versatile ways people are using parking space. On this day people feed parking meters to reserve the spaces for non-car uses like lawn games, yoga, or a mini café.

This past fall the parking space on Bow Street in front of Bloc 11 cafe was reclaimed for a large bicycle rack and reception was positive.  We’re anticipating the bike rack to return this spring.  Maybe we can do something even more ambitious this summer with a full on parklet.

Where in Union Square do you think a parklet would work best? What amenities would you like to see?

Want to learn more?

An article about “the most adorable urban space to come along in a long time.”

San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks initiative

PARK(ing) Day

A classic in the field of study on how people use public space, William Whyte’s “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”


Installations in Union Square

City staff are busy this afternoon in Union Square with two installations.

DPW is out on the new island putting up the holiday tree.  Several others on the flat bed are ready for their placement elsewhere in the City.



Meanwhile, Greg Jenkins and Hilary Scott from the Somerville Arts Council are installing the glass for the benches on Union Square Plaza.  Folks might remember that the bench was damaged last winter during snow removal.  It was quite an undertaking for the Arts Council to replace the custom piece.  We’re glad it’s back at last!

Monster Mash on October 23

Join us as we get Monster Mashed Up at the final SomerStreets event of the season. It’s happening up and down Somerville Avenue from Porter Square to Union Square (Washington Street to Beacon Street) on October 23rd from noon-4:00 P.M.  The event is presented by the City of Somerville with the Somerville Arts Council, Somerville Historic Preservation and Union Square Main Streets.

The event is sure to be a Ghoulishly good time with costume contests and parade, safe trick or treating, fall craft fair, haunted house, an Oktoberfest and lots more. Bobbie Pickett, the composer of the ultimate Halloween song “The Monster Mash” and a Somerville native, is our inspiration this year.

Somerville Avenue will be closed to vehicle  traffic starting so you can sash-shay, jog, bike, skateboard or slide from end to end.

Somerville Ave near Union Square:  

  • Costume Parade leaves at 12:30 pm from Union Square and heads to Conway Park with kids activities
  • Oktoberfest from 1:00 -6:00 pm centered at Union Square including Bull McCabe’s, Machu Picchu, and Sally O’Brien’s  with music and beer garden.
  • Monster Mash Up DJ competition
Near Market Basket and Dane Street:

Conway Park:

  • Family friendly activities with Somerville Recreation dept
  • Stage with Music and entertainment
  • Kid Costume contest at 1:00 pm
  • Adult Costume Contest at 2:00 pm
  • Dog Costume Contest at 2:30 pm
  • Marionette Puppet Show at 2:30 pm
  • Vegetable Circus at 3:00 pm

Somerville Ave at Porter Square and Wilson Square (Somerville Ave and Elm):

  • Autumn Craft Fair (Beacon to Elm St.)
  • Music and dance performances
  • Tango Society of Bosto, noon -12:30 pm
  • Stainless, 12:30-1:00 pm
  • Rakiya, 1:30 pm-2:30 pm
  •  Federator Interest, 3:00-4:00 pm

Along the Route:

  • Safe trick or treating for kids
  • Family friendly activities by Knucklebones
  • Spider Maze

Find the map to all the day’s activities here.




Project Beautification on Prospect Hill

JJ Williams and some of his neighbors on Prospect Hill are making their neighborhood more beautiful by planting street trees, putting in small plants and cleaning up trash.

They’re hoping some more neighbors on Warren and  Sanborn Ave and on Columbus between Walnut and Stone  might like to join them to do even more. They’ve considering a summer BBQ and looking at ways to foster communications on their block.

JJ’s developing a list of those interested in getting together.  You can reach out to him with your interest at beautifysomerville@gmail.com


Installation of Digital Signs by MIT Media Lab Continues

The first of the digital signs were installed in the front window of SCAT at 90 Union Square.

Two of the digital signs are now installed in Union Square as part of the MIT Media Lab project.  (See earlier blog post for more details.)

The sign at the window of SCAT went in in late April and then the sign at Hub Comics on Bow Street.  Next scheduled install is at Sherman Market over on the corner with Washington Street.  These locations were selected because they’ve got windows with ease of installation and viewing from nearby bus stops, as well as internet service to feed data into the signs.

The digital signs have information fed from NextBus on when to expect arrival of MBTA bus service for the various routes serving the neighborhood, as well as information on local happenings such as the farmers market, ArtsUnion festivals and more.