Evanston’s first ‘parklet’ makes debut

This article originally appeared in the Evanston Review. Written by Bob Seidenberg on 08.07.14.


As alderman in Evanston’s Fourth Ward, Don Wilson, was on semi-official duty Wednesday afternoon, checking out the city’s first public “parklet’’ – a small urban café occupying a onetime 20-minute parking space on the street opposite Hewn Bakery in his ward.

On the other hand, “this is actually something almost designed for me,’’ Wilson said, checking out the features of the detachable portable park.

An avid cyclist, Wilson said frequently stopped by Hewn, 810 Dempster St., just west of Chicago Ave., after his morning rides for one of the bakery’s made-from-scratch daily chocolate croissant and freshly brewed coffee.

For he and others, until now, they may linger around a bit, but “it just wasn’t conducive to people sitting down and socializing,’’ said Wilson, who spent some time Wednesday, doing just that.

The parklet, believed the area’s first, was an unknown concept to Hewn owner Ellen King, when the city asked earlier this year if she and co-owner Julie Matthei would be interested in having one.

For that matter, “we didn’t know what a parklet was,’’ King said.

“Once we kind of discussed what it was we figured it was kind of a natural thing for the bakery,’’ she said, “because this side of Dempster lacks outdoor seating and cafes so its really been a problem for local business. So by converting this one parking spot it kind of met the need of a lot of different businesses on this side of Dempster.’’

Still, she and co-owner Matthei put the question to their customer base whether the bakery should pursue it, she said.

The structure cost about $20,000 to build “so we raised the funds on kickstart (kickstart.com, a funding platform where people can donate toward projects),” King said, “because it was something that the community would have to use and would have to support. If we couldn’t raise the funds through kickstart without community support, we wouldn’t do it.’’

As it turns out it was no contest; residents more than met the challenge to support a local, homegrown bakery.

“We had had over 150 people donate to the cause,’’ King said, “and in 15 days we raised the amount so that shows we really did have the support.’’

Jeanie Petrick of Evanston’s Petrick Architecture and Scott Simpson Builders served as the design team for the project, along with King and Matthei.

Salvaged materials used inside Hewn’s store were replicated on the parklet, which includes benches and tables made from oak tree stumps and uses planters supplied by neighboring business Four Finches for screening from the street. Evanston Lumber was another contributor.

Detachable, the parklet will be removed and stored inside during the winter months and re-installed in the spring, say Hewn owners.

The 20-minute space will be returned for use during the winter months, they said.

Parklets are very common in Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, and other progressive cities in the United States, said King and Matthei, introducing the concept on the bakery’s web site, hewnbread.com)

Studies have shown that creating new public spaces from parking spots helps to create a connection between neighbors and helps local businesses, they said.

“Ideally, it makes more people kind of come and check out the shops on the street,’’ said King.

Further, the structure jutting into view, “naturally calms traffic.,’’ otherwise zipping down the street, she said.

For the interesting Dempster Street district, sometimes overlooked, “this keeps people in the neighborhood, in the block,’’ pointed out Johanna Nyden, the city’s economic development division manager, one of the city officials who worked with Hewn bringing the concept to reality.

“Before you just had people coming in, eating, maybe sitting at a bench, getting in their car and driving away,” Nyden said at Wednesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony. “But here you get people to pause, stay, consume their coffee and treat, and maybe decide, ‘Oh, I’ll go into Paramour Bungalow [812 Dempster] or gosh, I’ll walk down the street and get something else.”

“It really helps create a sense of place for the block.”