Grand Forks pilots parklets from concept to implementation


Public-private initiative trades one parking space for place-making opportunity

by Stephanie Erickson, Planner City of Grand Forks

One prerequisite for a vibrant downtown is good walking opportunities. But a lively downtown is more than just a nice walk. A lively downtown promotes social interaction and helps create a sense of place. Improving conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians strengthens the downtown experience and leads to a more livable and walkable city.

Recently, Grand Forks’ Planning and Community Development Department began using a small installation that has been popping up in cities all over the world - the parklet. We see this as another way to improve conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians and enhance downtown life. Focusing on people through human-scale design ensures that cities really are great places to visit, live, work, and play.

What is a parklet? A parklet is a sidewalk extension that repurposes the street and provides space and amenities like seating, planting, bicycle parking, and art. A well-designed parklet reimagines part of the street into a public space for people. Parklets are intended as aesthetic enhancements to the streetscape, providing an economical solution to the need for increased public open space. Grand Forks’ parklets reflect the creativity and passion of local grassroots initiatives of the community, and demonstrate the City’s commitment to encourage walking, biking, and creating neighborhood destinations that attract attention to local businesses and to the downtown.
The term parklet was first used in San Francisco in 2009 to describe the conversion of an automobile parking space into a mini park. The installation had its origins in Park(ing) Day (the third Friday of September), which encourages citizens across the world to install temporary parks in parking spaces. In 2011, Park(ing) Day resulted in 975 parklets in 162 cities around the world.

To clarify the role of the parklet in the public realm, many cities have created manuals and changed their ordinances so that parklets can be installed on a seasonal or permanent basis. Often they begin with a pilot program. The City of Grand Forks looked to communities such as San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Grand Rapids for examples of successful programs. Those communities envisioned parklets as a powerful economic development tool, a method for invigorating the public realm, and a unique marketing potential for adjacent businesses.

In Grand Forks, the Planning and Community Development Department sought the input of several other City departments to make sure the parklet concept would not infringe upon their duties and responsibilities, and to discuss requirements for an eligible applicant. In the spring of 2015, the City drafted the Grand Forks Parklet Pilot Project Manual.

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Near the end of that process the City was contacted by two applicants, Brick & Barley Bar and Restaurant and Rhombus Guys Brewing Company. Originally the plan was for the pilot to be one location. Because the two locations differ in terms of streetscape design elements – i.e., street grade, fire hydrant locations, proximity to intersections, etc. – we felt that having the two locations go through the pilot would really put it to the test.

The parklet was something that had never been done in this area, but there was little concern about the concept in Grand Forks. Many city departments and the public wanted to know what they were and were open to the idea. We felt it was very important for the success of the pilot that all the stakeholders were on board, so we had several meetings with other City departments and the public. Ultimately, the City Council approved both locations for a three-year pilot program, which would allow the applicants sufficient time to work out the bugs and give the public the opportunity to use the parklets for more than just one season. This also gives staff time to monitor the use of the parklets.

The first parklet popped up in Grand Forks in the summer of 2016 in front of the Rhombus Guys Brewery. The parklet took up one parking spot but in turn offered four additional tables of for outdoor seating, and counter seating along the street side. The city has heard nothing but positive reviews and buzz. In 2017, the other applicant, Brick & Barley Bar and Restaurant, will unveil its parklet. Currently, our neighboring community, East Grand Forks, Minnesota, is considering its own parklet program.

The Grand Forks Planning and Community Development Department created the Parklet Pilot Project Manual to guide applicants through the process and procedures. It provides an overview of the program. You can find the entire manual at

General Guidelines:

Accepted applicants are responsible for the design, installation, operation, management, maintenance, and removal of the parklet. Applicants will maintain the parklet structure and furniture in good repair.

Key policies:

  • Design Professional – A licensed architect, landscape architect, or engineer must seal proposed plans and supervise the installation. (For the pilot, a licensed contractor is acceptable.)
  • Encroachment Permit – An Encroachment Permit issued by the City of Grand Forks is required before a parklet can be installed. All installed parklets are subject to the terms and conditions outlined in the Encroachment Permit.
  • Duration of Installation – Approved parklets are permitted for installation from April 1 through November 1 and must be designed for easy removal. All approved parklets are temporary installations and are subject to removal per the Encroachment Permit.
  • Accessibility Requirements – All Parklets must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and be accessible to all users, including people with physical disabilities, wheelchair users, and those with impaired vision.
  • Required Maintenance Construction Bond – Applicants shall be required to present a construction bond, surety, or letter of credit to be approved by the City of Grand Forks for the purpose of ensuring that the costs of maintaining and/or removing the parklet are covered. The amounts to be covered shall include $5,000 for construction and $1,000 for maintenance.
  • Advertising – With the exception of a small plaque (four inches by six inches) recognizing donors, advertising is prohibited.
  • Building Permit – A building permit is required for the deck, including built-in planters and/or railings and for any other structures, such as a raised platform or roof.
  • Public Outreach – Business which front or are adjacent to the proposed parklet location must be notified by the applicant. If they do not own the property, they are required to notify the property owner and provide documentation that the abutting property owners/businesses have been notified.
  • Service and consumption of alcoholic beverages – The applicant must obtain approval by the City Council if the service and consumption of alcohol is a part of the operation of the parklet.

Stephanie Erickson is a planner for the City of Grand Forks. She reviews site plans for the City and oversees bicycle and pedestrian planning. Ms. Erickson is working on the Bike and Pedestrian Plan component of the Long Range Transportation Plan for 2045, The Transit Development Plan, and local Complete Streets policy. She chairs the Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Greenway Advisory Committee, and co-chairs the Bike and Pedestrian Safety Committee for Safe Kids. She represents the City on the Alley Alive grassroots group, was part of the Warehouse Ecodistrict & Grand Corridor Project team, and the Copenhagen Study Tour. Previously, she worked for the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization. Erickson received a B.S. in City Planning from the University of Utah.

Article republished from the NDPA SPRING newsletter 2017 in the July 2017 Western Planner