Panic at the Narberth Parklet!

Not everyone is a fan of the three-day pop-up parklet that, er, popped up in Narberth on Thursday.

Here in Philadelphia, we have to deal with things like stop-and-frisk, the tax abatement, and the sinister soda tax. But a few miles away in the Borough of Narberth, residents find themselves confronting a whole new species of evil: the parklet.

On Thursday morning, as most of us were just pouring our first cup of coffee, 34-year-old Narberth mom Kimberley Bezak and her husband and some friends were busily erecting a parklet in the parking lane on Haverford Avenue, about halfway between longtime borough bar The Greeks and Le Petit Mitron, known for its C’est manifique! croissants.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we can show you that the parklet is located in the spot once occupied by this car:

(Google Maps)

(Google Maps)

The parklet’s arrival was heralded by posts on two Narberth community pages on Facebook on Thursday morning, and not all the residents were happy about it. Here is a sampling of what the parklet protestors had to say:

Not only is there a park down the street with REAL GRASS, but this seems dangerous for those kids. Anyone who is distracted and takes their eyes off the road for a split second could smash right through this. Also, the shops need those spaces for customers !!!!!!

Love pop up parking space parks in the city. Doesn’t make much sense here. This is trying too hard to be hip.

This isn’t safe for toddlers, imho. They move so quickly and in unexpected directions. Here, they are only 1 or 2 feet, in the horizontal direction, from moving traffic.

“After we went live at 7 a.m., we hung out there for the first three hours, and we heard nothing but love from people on the street,” says Bezak, who lives nearby on Dudley Avenue with her husband Bill and two daughters, Ava, 4, and Alexa, 1. “So once I went online, I was very surprised to see what people were saying on Facebook. I would say the Facebook haters aren’t the true representation out on the ground.”

Bezak concocted her pernicious parklet plan a few weeks ago. She’s originally from New Orleans, where stopping to chat up your neighbor and maybe enjoy a cup of coffee together is a way of life, and she’s also lived in parklet-happy Washington D.C. as well as Manayunk, which has at least one parklet.

“There really isn’t a space down on Haverford to sit and linger with kids,” she Bezak, an occupational therapist for MOSS Rehab. (Bill “works for the government” in some secret-sounding capacity.) “You have a couple of tables in front of the cheese shop and French bakery and such, but there really isn’t a true area to let a kid just be a kid and where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone and talk to your neighbors.”

Of course, Bezak didn’t just stick a parklet on the street without anyone’s permission. She got approval from the mayor and the public safety department of the borough. As of right now, the Narberth parklet is temporary and is set to be dismantled on Saturday. But there’s already talk of extending it by one day, so that attendees of Sunday’s Narbeth Music & Arts Festival can take it in, and some residents have said that it should be a permanent fixture of the downtown area. Though it may seem big, the parklet actually only takes up one full parking spot on the street.

“Conceptually, I think that it’s a nice idea, a good thing in principle,” says Narberth resident Steve DiRico. “But there was not enough communication. It just kind of showed up without notice and without a clear understanding of what its purpose is. Honestly, I had never heard of a parklet until now. I had no idea what it was. Plus, the local businesses are upset because of the parking situation.”

Narberth Business Association president Ed Ridgway has been a supporter of the parklet since the get-go but explains why parking is such a big problem — or at least a big perceived problem — in the highly walkable borough.

“In a town like Narberth, we need a bigger base of customers than just the walkers,” Ridgway says. “We need people who can drive into town and park the car. Like in most small towns, the parking challenges seem worse than they are. When you are in Center City, you think it’s great when you find a parking spot a block away from where you’re going, but in a small town, you think you have a parking problem if you can’t park right in front of your destination.”

The debate over the Narberth parklet continued to rage — ok, simmer — well into Thursday night, spilling into Friday morning. But down at the parklet, all is calm. A local musician showed up for an impromptu performance, a group of dads had a guys’ night out on Thursday, and parents are braving the situation, bringing their children down to write on the parklet’s chalkboard walls and crawl around on the Astroturf.

“It takes up one parking spot,” stresses Bezak. “And we’ve had 10 people using the parklet at one time. That really puts it into perspective. I’d much rather park people instead of cars, and this is definitely taking on a life of its own.”

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