Parklets reclaim the streets of London


City air is polluted. A sea of shining cars pump out toxic fumes that sit heavily amongst manmade buildings and tarmacked roads. Our cities are monuments to vehicular transport, while nature is long forgotten. Yet, in the borough of Hackney, one resident is on a mission to make room for nature on our crowded roads. Here’s how Brenda invented the ‘parklet’.

In May 2017, the first parklet was born. Brenda Puech spent years looking out of her window to a view dominated by cars. As a resident who had chosen cycling in favour of driving, Brenda wondered if she could use the parking space outside her home to store her bicycle. When applying for the permit, her application was denied as the spaces are reserved for vehicles with engines. Due to the high volume of traffic on the roads, London residents mainly travel on foot, meaning their cars are parked on average 96% of the time. As a cyclist and pedestrian, Brenda had experienced first-hand the lack of nature, rest stops and bicycle lock-ups in Hackney. When city streets are devoted to cars, where is the incentive to walk? Brenda spent years petitioning the council to allow parking spaces to be used for other purposes, but her requests were rejected time and again.

Car pollution causes devastation to the environment and serious thought needs to be given to our public spaces. Brenda knew that her idea to transform parking spaces into mini parks would not only be welcomed by local residents but could also be the start of a wide-scale effort to return the streets to the slow traveller. Brenda converted the concrete space into a natural haven with planters, grass and a bench to provide an escape from the relentlessly artificial city.

Mums for Lungs is delighted that Hackney is leading the way in reimagining streets. For too long cars have dominated what should be community space and the Parklets scheme should lead to cleaner air for everyone and allow people and especially families to reclaim our streets
— Mums for Lungs

The council initially attempted to have the mini-oasis removed but Brenda petitioned for it to remain and the little space became popular with local residents. The council are now trialling parklet permits which will allow other Hackney residents to transform parking spaces in their local area. To find out how to apply, click here.

In March 2019, Brenda was awarded the national Charles Maher Award – Walking Champion 2019 by UK charity Living Streets. This award celebrates an individual who has made an outstanding effort to improve their local community. "Living Streets will be working with Brenda to create a toolkit for parklets so that other people can follow in her footsteps and reclaim public spaces in their local areas to sit, spend time and watch the world go by." - Aisha Hannibal, Engagement Manager, Living Streets.

Once ignored, Brenda is now celebrated and her parklet scheme is starting to reclaim more public spaces. We need cleaner air. We need nature. We need parklets. We need more people like Brenda.

You can follow @BrendaPuech and @livingstreets on Twitter. Find out more about Mums for Lungs, a London based group of parents seriously concerned about air pollution’s impact on children’s health. Follow @MumsForLungs on Twitter.