Urban Balconies - Parklet Program

                                                              

Urban Balconies - Parklet Program

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Solution proposed by: 
Belo Horizonte City Hall
In a Nutshell: 
Implementation of a parklet program in Belo Horizonte, adding to the successful experiences of other cities new ideas to expand the diversity of parklet solutions and their uses.
Where and When: 
Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The program is active since 2015 and covers the whole municipal territory.
Challenges: 
The challenges, similar to the ones found in other cities, which have also implemented parklet programs, are the foundations for the proposed innovations. One of the fundamental challenges is the dissemination of the idea in a way that encourages citizens to actively engage on the production of parklets and, thus, contributes to shape and offer new public spaces to the collectivity. This engagement relies on the ease to access technical, legal and bureaucratic requirements. Another challenge to highlight is the difficult to foster diversity on parklet design and use, given the trend to use this kind of solution only as extension of commercial places on high income locations.
Innovation: 
The licensing process has been designed to be very simple, straightforward and, more importantly, free. Another main innovation on the process is that ephemeral parklets (up to 24h) are exempt from licensing. A modular construction system has been designed as reference and it is similar to a kit of parts that can be assembled in a variety of combinations. The diversity of parts is enhanced with the help of a digital interface that can be used by citizens to produce their own designs and generate a list with the necessary material for the assembling. Finally, an additional licensing mode has been developed in connection with compensatory measures of large-scale development projects.
Concept: 
The main goals of the parklet program in Belo Horizonte are the following: promote the direct involvement of citizens in the construction and modification of urban spaces; increase the public image and perception of the space that is traditionally and exclusively used for parking; enhance existing uses of public space and proposing new ones; provide rest and leisure areas, while fostering connections between people; increase the vitality and diversity of public space; encourage non-motorized ways of transport. We consider that when citizens decide to create a parklet, they are contributing to the improvement of the public space quality, hence the option for the free licensing mentioned previously. The exemption of licensing for ephemeral parklets encourages common citizens to experiment new innovative ideas using inexpensive/recycled/reused material without the need to deal with formalities of licensing (as long as a few parameters are guaranteed, for safety reasons). The modular construction system and the digital parametric interface help citizens to deal with technical issues regarding design and assembling. The assembling of parklets as a compensatory measure of large development projects aims to spread units to other parts of the city that are usually not serviced by parklets due to the lack of interest by commercial sponsors
Description: 
Parklets are proposed, designed, built and maintained directly by citizens (or companies). The role of the local government is only to define the parameters of the program, help disseminating the idea and evaluating design proposals to check whether they meet the requirements, which are defined to guarantee safety. The proponent is also encouraged (although it is not mandatory) to talk to neighbors before shaping the final idea in order to minimize conflicts and to possibly share costs when additional funding is necessary. Design review is done by a commission and it is normally concluded in up to two weeks. After approval, the proponent is invited to sign a simple contract with the local government, defining responsibilities of each party. The license is initially valid for 2 years, but it can be extended indefinitely. Despite the modular construction system, there is no pre-defined model for the parklets, which may be built with different shapes, functions and materials. Citizens interested in assembling new parklets must provide a simple documentation explaining the idea, including drawings to describe parts, materials and the existing physical elements on the area. The interface developed in Belo Horizonte aims to connect the user with a range of designs, comparing and producing a broad range of parklet variations and it can be considered a hybrid interface comprising a physical and a digital dimension. The physical dimension is the modular construction system that offers different types of modules. The digital part is built on a parametric modeling software platform that offers the possibility of customizing modules and designing solutions that automatically meet technical and legal requirements.
Impacts: 
So far, in less than 1 year 26 parklets have already been licensed through the program, excluding the temporary assembling that are exempt from licensing. The exemption of licensing for ephemeral parklets was responsible for the emergence of an “itinerant parklet” that is assembled on different parts of the city during some weekend days. The reaction of the public has been very positive and the demand for new spots is growing.