Many Downtown Pittsburgh corridors lack the cohesive street scape of Grant Street or the inviting street trees of Market Square. To test the impact of improved pedestrian environments around Downtown, Envision Downtown created a mobile parklet by retrofitting a construction dumpster with bench seating and a high impact planting program. The parklet can be relocated throughout Downtown just like a regular dumpster and is deployed throughout Downtown to add public seating and greenery to streetscapes that are lacking pedestrian amenities.
In fall of 2015 Envision Downtown conducted a Public Space Public Life (PSPL) survey in partnership with Gehl Studio. The PSPL provided an x-ray of infrastructure Downtown including detailed inventory on sidewalk conditions, pedestrian lighting, street trees and public seating. All four of these elements are important for a cohesive, comfortable and safe pedestrian experience. A number of streets in Downtown were found to have failing infrastructure, some due to lack of maintenance and others due to lack of space or underground conditions that prevented the provision of streetscape amenities such as street trees and public seating.
The main goal of the project was to find a way in which to provide missing streetscape elements on a temporary basis. A project from San Francisco in which a construction dumpster was turned into a parklet was used for inspiration. A second project in Seattle in which a dumpster was used for a storm water garden helped provide some of the technical details.
For this project Envision Downtown planned to retrofit a construction dumpster with a bench seat to provide public seating and to plant trees in order to add organic elements to barren stretches of sidewalk. The dumpster would be mobile moving to a variety of locations Downtown and operate using a dumpster permit.
We began by looking to purchase a used dumpster from a roll-off company however, it quickly became apparent that purchasing a new dumpster was more cost effective for two reasons:
- We were unable to locate any local roll-off companies that would allow us to purchase an old dumpster so we would have had to ship in a used dumpster. Many roll-off companies patch and recycle their dumpsters for many years.
- Refinishing an old dumpster – sandblasting, patching rust and powder coating – would have been labor intensive and more costly then purchasing a new one
We ordered a new roll-off dumpster from Friesen’s Welding located in Lewisburg, PA. We chose a standard 20 yard dumpster for our base – 22ft long X 8ft wide X 4ft high. Though Downtown Pittsburgh does not have delineated on-street spaces, parking space sizes are usually accepted to be between 9-10ft wide and 20-23ft long so the 20 yard dumpster comfortably fits within a standard parking space. Lead time on manufacturing was 7-8 weeks and a custom color could be chosen at time of purchase.
To retrofit the dumpster to become a parklet we worked with a local welding contractor, Zac Campbell. For the bench design we looked at images of the parklet made in San Francisco alongside researching comfortable seat depths and seat heights for the average American. Based on these rough dimensions Zac cut out a portion along the side of the dumpster and used tubing and sheet metal to form a bench. He primed and painted the new portion to match the existing sections and bolted down two stained and treated 2x6s to create a more comfortable seating area.
For the planted portion of the parklet we looked at the Splash Boxx storm water parklet example from Seattle. Based on this we included drainage holes covered with a metal mesh in the bottom of the dumpster to allow for excess rain water. The door of the dumpster was also welded shut.
It took approximately 80 hours of labor to finish retrofitting the dumpster into a parklet.
Planting, Permitting and Moving
We partnered with Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the region’s exceptional natural places. WPC is responsible for the street planters in Downtown Pittsburgh so they were an ideal candidate for planting and maintenance of the parklet.
The dumpster was filled with a layer of lava rock first than top soil and mulch in order to keep the weight light enough to still transport (under 18.5 tons), the total weight of the dumpster came to approximately 17.7 tons when planted.
The parklet was planted with some larger shrubs and small trees to fill out the bulk of the back. This created room in the front section for seasonal flower additions that rotate along with other Downtown plantings. The WPC waters and replants the parklet seasonably as needed and Envision has a maintenance contract with them for this project.
Permitting needs are dependent on parklet location. There are two main permit requirements to consider when deploying the dumpster in the public right of way.
- A dumpster permit is needed form the City. In this case we pull a commercial permit for weeds and debris which costs $100 per month
- Parking variance from the Pittsburgh Parking Authority if the dumpster is deployed in a paid parking space. As previously noted the dumpster is one parking spot in length so we request an out-of-service parking variance. The cost of the variance will vary based on cost of parking at the chosen location and length of time but for Downtown Pittsburgh can be $280 for 1 week
If the dumpster is placed in a no parking area then we are required to talk to the Department of Public Works, Traffic and Engineering Department for approval and acquire a street obstruction permit.
The dumpster is relocated via contract with Pittsburgh Roll-Off services using a standard roll-off truck. Moves are scheduled a couple of days before hand and often occur very early in the morning to avoid Downtown traffic. A full parking space is required in front to the dumpster to load and unload so no parking signs need to be hung 24 hours ahead of time or the dumpster needs to be placed next to or in a no parking zone.