andersonville people spots

Chicago’s People Spots Here to Stay … Here’s Why


People Spots, known in other cities as “Parklets,” are tiny public spaces adjacent to the sidewalk located in former parking spaces.  They transform parking spaces (into outdoor rooms for people to congregate in designerly, green, and wheelchair-accessible splendor, RIGHT IN THE STREET).  We love them.

People Spots are made possible by a program established by CDOT but are paid for by sponsoring business owners, not the city.  Chicago now has nine People Spots located in Andersenville, Lakeview, the Loop and Bronzeville.  The program is in its third year and the Metropolitan Planning Council (and Sam Schwartz Engineering) have just completed a study to see “how people are using them and to gauge their economic impact.”  What’s the verdict?

Two Thumbs Up from Local Businesses

Their report shows a resounding success; check out the whole write up at Metropolitan Planning Council’s website:   Here are the highlights of the report summed up in their own infographic.

people spot map

The fears of early nay-sayers have been totally debunked.  Rather than “driving away” customers in cars, the overall result has been an increase in foot traffic reported by 80% of businesses surveyed.  And they don’t only benefit the sponsor business (right behind the Spot).  By bringing more pedestrians into the neighborhood, they to make the street more attractive, friendly and safe, promoting neighborhood meet-ups, window shopping and, for Heritage Bicycles a boom in social media promotions due to all the Instragam photos snapped outside the shop.

A Park in the Street – What A Concept!

The idea of making a park on top of the asphalt of a city street may seem a strange one to many people until they’ve actually had the pleasure of sitting in a People Spot or Parklet.  But the concept had been well tested before the first official People Spots were put in place.  Where did the idea come from?

first parking day

In 2005, a San Francisco based design studio, Rebar,  decided to “explore the range of possible activities” in a 2 hour metered parking space.  Plugging the meter is basically a rental agreement – the driver of a car pays for the use of that patch of asphalt for two hours and then uses it to store their car while they are away from it.  Rebar figured they could do the same – rent the the metered space – and then use it as they would like for two hours.  They brought in rolls of turf, a tree in a planter and a park bench and tried just sitting in the street.

“Our original PARK stood in place for two hours – the term of the lease offered on the face of the parking meter. When the meter expired, we rolled up the sod, packed away the bench and the tree, and gave the block a good sweep, and left.”

The physical legacy of that exploration was a single photo but from that spark came an international movement.  Now every year on the third Friday in September local community groups, artists and design studios stage a thought-provoking intervention.  Known as PARK(ing) Day, the event has been undertaken on six contents now (I guess there aren’t a lot of parking spaces to conquer in Antarctica).

Moss and PARK(ing) Day

Moss has been involved in PARK(ing) Day since 2009.  We feel strongly about the issue parking here in Chicago – read the rant here.

Check out this video for a rundown of that first year’s activity including a custom built street-lounge chair and a bike off-ramp from the bike lane adjacent to our spot.  There are photos and video of the construction and deployment of the park and audio from an NPR interview with Matt about the process.

Moss participated in PARK(ing) Day interventions again in 2010 (PARK(ing) Day 2.0, September 17 and  moss Conquers Street for the Day), 2011 (PARK(ing) Day 2011 is Friday, September 16th in Lakeview ) and 2012, (PARK(ing) Day roundup 2012) before we transferred our efforts to a more permanent medium – our very own Parklet for Andersenville.

Read all about that project here on its project page or in our 2012 post “Chicago’s First Parklet in Andersenville”


Other PARK(ing) Day Highlights from Chicago

PARK(ing) Day has been celebrated in Chicago by more organizations than moss, of course, although the community of interested designers is a very interconnected one.  Our own Lety and her partner Mig, were movers and shakers in the Architecture For Humanity installations over the past few years.

Here’s the Architecture for Humanity Chicago Installation for PARK(ing) Day 2010, done in conjunction with CartoGram.  The process photo on the left shows the impressive level of pre-installation prep required by these projects (photo credit Mig Rod) and the finished product on the right shows Lety in the foreground (photo from CartoGram‘s website).

aforh 2010

In 2013, the A for H Chicago team undertook a public art project in their space, inviting artists and community members to come paint one of these concrete stools (molded in 5 gallon buckets and made with salvaged wooden legs) which were then auctioned off.  The photos below from the projects Open Architecture Network page.


With all that history behind PARK(ing) Day, its a little surprising that the date passed almost un-remarked in Chicago this year.  Only one installation (in Streeterville) took place on the third September.  Perhaps, though, the concept is simply outgrowing the one-day-intervention phase  and moving into the greater implementation of People Spots all over the city.  We certainly hope so!