Parklet brings a sense of community to Princeton

Maria Evans (center), artistic director of the Arts Council of Princeton leads the Witherspoon Street parklet opening ceremony on June 3.
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Maria Evans (center), artistic director of the Arts Council of Princeton leads the Witherspoon Street parklet opening ceremony on June 3.

When residents walk down Witherspoon Street in Princeton, a returning attraction will grab their eyes.

It is called a parklet, which is an open air public gathering area that provides seats for drinking beverages such as tea or coffee, having a bite to eat, playing games and enjoying outdoor space.

“The parklet is almost like a reunion. Once we put it up, people just fill it. This is just a great way for our community to spend time together,” said Maria Evans, artistic director of the Arts Council of Princeton. “What is funny is you will see strangers all sitting next to each other and all start a conversation. You just really observe people doing old fashion talking at the parklet.”

This year’s parklet and previous parklets in town have been organized by the Arts Council of Princeton.

Through the years Evans has spearheaded the organization of the parklet for the Arts Council.

“This was a hard project to start when we first began doing the parklets. We redesign and reinvent. Every year now it takes on a whole new life which is really cool,” she explained.

The parklet has painted seating designed by Melissa Kuscin, the program and marketing manager at the Arts Council, a painting by Evans hangs at the end of the inside of the parklet, photos of Princeton provided by the The Historical Society of Princeton are on display throughout the parklet and the area will have hanging items from the ceiling added on by next week, according to Evans.

An opening celebration was held on June 3 in front of Small World Coffee, where the parklet is located.

“This is an amazing, casual and unexpected gathering spot that takes people by surprise, which is just nice. The minute we put it up it was not even finished it was still under construction people were already in here,” said Jessica Durrie, co-owner of Small World Coffee. “I think the parklet is a testament to the validity of public art and public spaces.”

This parklet will be using the structure designed and built by local architect Joseph Hobart Weiss in 2017.

“The parklet is just this great community space especially on days like today when the weather is nice. People who don’t really know each other sit and talk with on another,” said Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert. “This is a great use of public space. I think what surprises people is that this is only two parking spaces, but when you look at it it seems like an enormous amount of space.”

She said parking is important to Princeton and that is why the town devotes a lot of space to it.

“We can have little pieces of it for other uses. This use for the parklet feels special because it is out of the ordinary and I love to see the people smiling when they first see it walking the street,” Lempert said.

The 2019 parklet will feature furniture designed by Chris Maher, flowering plants, free WIFI provided by Andrena, an interactive chalkboard supplied by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, and additional art-based activities.

Officials said the parklet on Witherspoon Street will be open until November.

In 2015, the Arts Council’s first parklet was installed in front of Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street.

“The parklet means building community and bringing together a variety of groups and sponsors to create something good for all the residents in Princeton. People wait and flock to the parklet when it opens,” said Jim Levine, Interim Executive Director of the Arts Council. “This shows the value of public space in a community.”

According to Arts Council officials, the returning attraction was made possible because of multiple organizations, the Arts Council of Princeton, Municipality of Princeton, Small World Coffee, Andrena, Andlinger Center, Davidge Design Studio, The Historical Society of Princeton, MacLean Agency, Palmer Square, PNC Bank, Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, The Watershed Institute, Whole Earth Center, and Chris Maher Design.