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NewSchool team's 'parklet' design wins city competition

A team of recent graduates from the NewSchool of Architecture and Design was announced on Wednesday to be the winner of the city-funded $5,000 prize to build a mobile "parklet" for downtown San Diego.

The competition to drive design ideas for the miniature park-like public spaces was kicked off in mid-August as a joint effort by the city of San Diego and the Downtown San Diego Partnership. The idea was to bring San Diego a parklet that can be moved from place to place, as urban planners find ways to maximize the utility of public spaces where there might not be an opportunity for larger, traditional parks.

Determined by an online public Facebook poll to be the winner of the “Moving Parklet” Design Challenge, the team of Kate Goodson, Scott Hook and Joshua Larson took the prize. They now have about two weeks to turn their design, named "The Boardroom," into a completed mobile parklet before the city and the Downtown San Diego Partnership plan to unveil a finished product on Sept. 19.

More than a dozen qualified designs were submitted in the competition. Last week, the city and the Downtown San Diego Partnership announced three finalists, which were put to public scrutiny via the Facebook poll. "The Boardroom" design, with an expected cost of $3,750, according to its designers, edged out submissions from Christopher Voltl and Lili Lotfizadeh.

The winning design includes three basic variations for its layout: one with a 9-foot-by-18-foot rectangle layout, another with a 36-foot-by-9-foot layout and a third diamond-shaped layout. It's planned to incorporate sections of raised platform, benches, decking and landscaping that could include succulents. Throughout the assembly, a glow-in-the-dark epoxy will be applied to provide a nighttime glow that its designers say will be both "visually striking and pleasing to the eye." The glow will also add an element of safety to the space, they said in their official submission.

"It's wonderful because we have a very, very good creative class here in San Diego," San Diego Downtown Partnership President Kris Michell said. "But 'The Boardroom' was the one that people thought was the best.

"What's really cool about the mobile parklet is that it taps into not only San Diegans creativity, but it also allows us to experiment with how we use public space."

Providing examples of how the parklet may be used, Michell said it could be installed in a spot like Civic Center Plaza for a couple of days, then perhaps be moved to East Village, or some other area in downtown with limited space but a public willing to use it.

"And then if we find that people love it and it's addressing a real need, then afterward we can think about doing something permanent there," Michell said.

Michell added that San Diego is on the right track with beginning the process of that evaluation. Other cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have had success with parklets, she said, adding that the idea makes sense for a city trying to end urban sprawl by focusing on a more dense downtown area.

"We are getting with it," she said. "We'll see how people react to it in different space areas, and how the local businesses and the local residents and the people who typically go to those areas — what they do, if it becomes a gathering site."

The parklet could help to address park space deficits the Downtown San Diego Partnership says exists in areas of downtown, like East Village, which is experiencing a boom right now in multifamily residential development.

"They're in desperate need of one," Michell said. "Downtown's going to take, and it should take, an extraordinary amount of density. That's where it belongs, in the urban core of a region. So because people are living on top of each other, we need to make sure we have park space for folks to use."

The mobile parklet will be unveiled on Sept. 19 as part of PARK(ing) Day, an international event that encourages people to temporarily transform parking spaces into mini-parks.

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