New public spaces are popping up around the City of Richmond thanks to a collaborative effort between the city and Venture Richmond. This past year has been exceptionally challenging for all businesses, but city businesses faced a unique challenge that their suburban counterparts did not. While suburban businesses could sacrifice some space in their parking lots so that they could offer more outside dwelling or dining space, city businesses had no such option – until now. This spring, the City of Richmond began taking small steps to help rectify that with the introduction of parklets.

Parklets are pre-fabricated 6 foot by 12 foot raised “streetdecks” designed to transform a typical city parking space into a flexible public space where city residents and guests can relax outdoors, hopefully while enjoying a delicious take-out meal from a nearby local restaurant.

The city initially purchased five parklets using funds received through federal CARES Act funding and distributed them throughout various Richmond neighborhoods in locations identified through Venture Richmond’s Picnic in a Parklet program. The locations include Joe’s Inn (205 N. Shields Ave.), The Nile Ethiopian Bistro and Café (306 N. 29th St.), Stir Crazy Café (4015 MacArthur Ave.), Hot for Pizza (1301 W. Leigh St.), and Scoop (403 Strawberry St.). Additional, more customized, locations are in the works through private funding, grants, and pro-bono design work by downtown architects HKS Architects and Walter Parks Architects.

Each parklet is a first come, first occupied space under the stewardship of the associated business. While reservations and waiter service are not available, visitors are welcome to bring light takeout meals.

Businesses are responsible for the furnishing and upkeep of their parklets, but assistance in that department came from a fellow small business. LaDiff, the downtown furniture store, generously offered to supply the parklets with vibrant bistro sets.

“Furniture sales – and, frankly, anything home-related – have been the few bright spots in this crazy year,” said Sarah Paxton who, along with her husband, Andy, owns LaDiff. “We have been looking for a way that we could help our friends in the restaurant industry who have really suffered. My husband, Andy, is on the board of Venture Richmond and knew about the parklets, so we approached Lisa Sims and told her that we wanted to furnish them. Andy has personally gone out to each installation. We love that they’ve been so well-received.”

The move beautifully illustrates the supportive and philanthropic nature of the small business community in Richmond. The sets were officially donated to Venture Richmond, who in turn, loans them out to each of the parklets where they provide cheerful a pop of color along city streets.

Beautiful old city sidewalks are picturesque and charming until a global pandemic strikes and forces small businesses to rethink their outdoor options – or lack thereof.

“A city needs breathing room: green space, wide sidewalks, gathering areas. That’s what the parklets provide!” said Paxton on the importance of the Parklets. “Without this kind of space we really are a ‘concrete jungle.’ With the parklets, citizens can stop and sit to check an email, read the paper, order a cup of coffee, chat with a friend… take a break in their day. We are grateful to Venture Richmond for sponsoring the idea and to the city for agreeing to it.”

The parklet program has been a true collaborative effort between the city of Richmond, Venture Richmond, LaDiff, as well as HKS Architects and Walter Parks Architects, for the betterment of the city, and the quality of life for those who live in and work within its boundaries.

Image via Venture Richmond.