Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's not really about the bikes. Or the parklets.

mini-park on 24th in noe v.jpg
Parklet on 24th Street, Noe Valley

A small item in the New York Times' local city coverage caught my eye the other day. Apparently a cafe operated by new residents in a Brooklyn neighborhood thought it would be a boon to their street if they jumped the city's regulatory hoops and installed a bike corral. The new facility removed one parking space. The "improvement" proved controversial:

… the bike corral set off backlash among many longtime residents and merchants in Crown Heights, who say that they were not consulted and that their parking needs were disregarded….“We did this thinking that we are contributing something to the neighborhood to make it more accessible to some people,” said Ms. Blumm, who is also the communications manager at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

… But far from being a welcome addition, the corral has led to a petition seeking its removal, a counter-petition in support, heated community-board discussions and acrimonious debates on local blogs. How a 24-foot-by-7 foot rectangle of public outdoor space has provoked such controversy is a question that has many in the neighborhood puzzled.

… Chuck Platt, a graduate student and cyclist who has lived in the neighborhood for one year, says he supports the “subtle ways” the city is making it more difficult for cars. “When you put in more bike-friendly access, it increases traffic to an area for the better,” he said.

But Roger Malcolm, who has lived in Crown Heights for 12 years and is also a cyclist, scoffs at the idea of locking either of his two bicycles at the corral. Mr. Malcolm believes the bike corral, while it is public property, sends an implicit signal that it is only for patrons of Little Zelda. It is an example, he said, of how newcomers are “changing the neighborhood.”

Mr. Malcolm was expressing similar sentiments to those I've heard from an old-time Noe Valley merchant-friend about the "parklets" developed on 24th Street. This person has worked in the area for years, has seen many of her customers move away when their children were grown and they needed less space, and fears the loss of even a few parking spaces will keep them from making occasional visits to shop in the old neighborhood. But mostly it is the attitude of the newcomers promoting the parklets that gets to her:

"They just don't listen. They hate cars and they think everyone can ride a bike."

When I listen, what I really hear is that she is mourning a time when the neighborhood had a wider range of ages -- children, their parents, old people who had been in their homes for years. What she sees now is that younger people with good jobs, usually in tech, are buying into the neighborhood. Most merchants adapt to their tastes; after all, they are the ones with the money. To the old timers, the neighborhood and especially the commercial strip is becoming foreign.

I have to wonder -- is the neighborhood's current hipster-oriented monoculture likely to change with time? Will the current batch raise children here and begin to want more practical stores than bars and boutiques? Will some of them age here? Or will urban life and rising property values force this stratum out in their turn?
***
I have one other irreverent thought about the parklets: we're lucky in this city if we get 30 warm sunny days when it's not blowing a gale. These are spread out randomly over the year. We've had a nice week of them this February, but it would be no shock if we didn't get a single one in the month of July. Outdoor seating is just not one of the amenities much called for in our climate. The photo above this post was taken on a typical San Francisco day -- no one was lingering outside. Too cold.

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