We Rallied and Built a Parklet - PARK(ing) Day 2016

November 9, 2016

PBR HAWAII & Associates, Inc. saw PARK(ing) DAY as a good opportunity for something fun that advocates improving urban livability through placemaking… something innately incorporated in what landscape architects do. We had missed our chance in 2015 to design and transform a parking stall so we were not about to let that slip by again.


The theme of “Mauka to Makai” arose when our team was brainstorming how our office mission aligns with the intentions behind PARK(ing) DAY. PBR’s work spans a wide range of communities and landscapes: our work requires us to consider how people interact with each other and with their landscapes. Our projects have taken us to all corners of the islands and continue to challenge us to balance new growth with preservation. To effectively preserve the health of our environment, it is important to continually examine our interactions with our surroundings, especially our urban spaces where so many people live and work. In this case, we wanted to impart a message of sustainability and conservation awareness with our transformation of a parking space to a mini public park.

We narrowed down the selection of parking stalls to one in front of Lucky Belly on Smith Street because it met several criteria: 1) it’s close to our office; 2) it’s in a walkable neighborhood; 3) this block doesn’t have street trees so a parklet would provide a great contrast; 4) it’s active during the day. We noted the mauka-to-makai direction of Smith Street and saw that as an example of how strongly the Hawaiian sense of direction is embedded in the way we orient ourselves in here. It’s unique. We asked each other: What else would help emphasize that idea of orientation and understanding of this place? What can help this look more like Hawaii?


What would have grown in the mauka to makai strip along Smith Street? It was becoming clear that we should condense leeward mesic forest to coastal plains into the scale of a parklet. While we sketched out ideas, one team member suggested that we use as much salvaged and recycled materials as possible. Luckily, another team member’s husband (mahalo Vena!) had free access to palettes, a key parklet component. We sketched ways to stack palettes at different levels to abstractly suggest changes in elevation so that higher levels could double as seating areas. This all happened during one lunch meeting!

We quickly built a rough 3D model so the next steps were finding and coordinating materials. The key is to take whatever you can get! For example, Nylawn was willing to donate irregular pieces of synthetic turf so we were glad to pick them up. Of course, we weren’t 100% sure what to do with all the pieces, but that’s what design-build improvisation is for….

We did, however, know that we wanted the materials to be their own conversation starters. Having native Hawaiian plants doubled as educational outreach, where we talked to people about their ecological benefits and cultural importance. (A few people even tried to buy the plants! Sorry- they were rentals from Hui Ku Maoli Ola.)

In addition to providing event insurance, Better Block Hawaii loaned us cardboard furniture donated from the IUCN World Conservation Congress- people loved them and that helped further the idea of sustainability through reuse.

We started installing at 7am and were done two hours later. Many colleagues volunteered one hour of their time to watch the parklet and engage passersby. Add a little island music from a speaker and some smiling faces, the parklet was instantly a stimulating novelty.

Hawaii Bicycling League organized a bike tour between the our parklet and three others so there was a great turn out around lunch time.

As a planning and landscape architecture firm, we create plans and designs but rarely get to construct our own ideas. Creating a parklet was fulfilling for all team members because not only was it an unplanned team-building exercise, it also felt good to build something cool that was a platform for advocacy. Look for our parklet next year!

For more coverage of the day, see Civil Beat’s article here: http://www.civilbeat.org/2016/09/honolulu-parking-stalls-become-tiny-public-parks-for-a-day/


Grace Zheng is a licensed Landscape Architect and a Project Manager at PBR HAWAII & Associates, Inc.

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