Noah Koretz, an expert in transitional development, is helping to transform downtown seating areas called “parklets.”
Two temporary seating areas built on top of Merrimack Street parking spaces have been the talk of the city this summer.
Erected on May 6 as part of a one-day exercise to envision ways to revitalize and bring pedestrian activity downtown, the bump-outs, as they’ve been called, have remained. Owners of Barrett’s Specialty Foods and the A-1 Deli sought city permits to allow for outdoor seating as a way to retain the structures in front of their businesses until the end of September.
As the permits near their expiration date, City Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said she hopes city officials have plans to improve the bump-outs’ appearance and durability if they are to return next year.
“The temporary bump-outs were great for that day,” Daly O’Brien said, but they didn’t stand the test of time.
Noah Koretz, who has worked with the city on transformation initiatives through a partnership with MassDevelopment, said he is conferring with Mayor James J. Fiorentini on alternative designs for the bump-outs, known around the country and the world as “parklets.”
The jersey barriers flanking the seating areas are particularly unattractive, Daly O’Brien said.
“If this is going to be a feature going forward, how can it be done so they are safe and attractive?” she asked.
Koretz showed councilors a series of photos of parklets located as nearby as Somerville and as far away as Montreal, Canada. Most used large planters in various materials, from wood to concrete, and fencing or rails, to separate the seating area from the street and protect users from vehicle traffic.
Fiorentini and department heads are working on a more permanent solution for downtown businesses, working together to address aesthetic and safety concerns, Koretz said. They hope to develop rules for a downtown parklet program in time for the 2018 outdoor dining season.
The temporary structures will be removed at the beginning of October, in plenty of time to clear the street for winter snow removal.
Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan praised the parklet program, but agreed with Daly O’Brien that the jersey barriers are unsightly.
“I tried to get the jersey barriers painted. I’m not sure it would have made much of a difference … sort of like putting lipstick on a pig,” Sullivan said.
Daly O’Brien asked if the large jersey barriers now in use could be swapped out for smaller models for the remainder of this year’s outdoor dining season.