Here’s a unique idea to boost our downtown

Published on Winchester Sun, August 29, 2019

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about making significant upgrades to downtown infrastructure.

Recognizing the need for updated amenities for pedestrians and shoppers has led local officials to seek bids on a redesign of the “high side” of Main Street.

Similarly, we have written in this column and other places in The Sun about the need for better accommodations for downtown shoppers.

We are all seeking to return our historic central business district to the thriving hub of commerce and social connection it once was.

But not all improvements need to be expensive, significant undertakings.

The temporary shade canopy installed last week is just a small sampling of what is possible. Hopefully, this will lead to more permanent upgrades.

Here’s an idea I’d like to throw out for consideration.

We have a handful of unique eateries downtown, and a couple of them already do some limited sidewalk seating.

But our sidewalks aren’t always wide enough or otherwise suitable for seats.

What I have in mind is known as a “parklet.”

A parklet is a mobile public space that is parked along the street at sidewalk level and occupies about two parking spaces.

It can consist of booths for sitting. It can be umbrellas or awnings for shade. It could also include decorative features such as planters and artwork.

An example of a parklet in Collingswood, New Jersey.

The idea is to park it in front of popular spots such as restaurants, bars, or coffee shops.

The fact that the parklet is mobile allows several businesses to share it. One example — in Collingswood, New Jersey — was established about six years ago.

That particular parklet project cost around $5,000 to build. It is moved around town every month or so, providing sidewalk seating and a pleasant place for patrons to gather and enjoy their food and beverages.

I imagine it wouldn’t be difficult for a few interested organizations and businesses to put together that kind of money to fund a similar project in downtown Winchester.

It could be a catalyst for other projects. And I suspect it would generate enough new business to more than offset the cost.

The genius of ideas such as this is they don’t require massive amounts of money or prolonged planning and discussion.

A mobile parklet seems like a tremendous kick-starter kind of project for our emerging downtown.

Find more background on the Collingswood Parklet project at http://bit.ly/parklet-idea.

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Twitter @PeteKoutoulas.

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