June 11, 2017

A New Parklet on Palmer Square Invites Passersby to Come and Play

FULL OF ENERGY: The parklet that opens to the public on Saturday, in front of jaZams toy store on Palmer Square, is structured along a theme of energy and play. Each of its five rooms has a different function.

Two summers ago, a set of artfully designed, covered benches in front of Small World Coffee became a popular resting spot for those shopping and strolling along Witherspoon Street. This temporary “parklet,” a project of the municipality and the Arts Council of Princeton, was a first for Princeton, following the lead of such cities as San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Seattle.

The success of the project has led to an expanded version of the parklet, this time in front of jaZams toy store at 25 Palmer Square East. While the concept is similar, the design is different. The former space outside of Small World was all about relaxing with coffee and conversation. The new one around the corner, which officially opens with a public celebration this Saturday, June 10 from 3 to 5 p.m., is a kind of energy playground.

“It’s in front of a toy store. So the theme is energy, mixed in with the idea of play,” said Princeton-based architect Joseph Hobart Weiss, who designed the parklet after collaborating with jaZams proprietors Joanne Farrugia and Dean Smith. “The idea was generated by the site.”

Like the 2015 parklet, this one follows the slope of the street. “In the former, they just basically set up a platform,” Mr. Weiss said. “I thought it would be more interesting, with this one, to use the slope and create a series of rooms that cascade down the street.”

There are five rooms, each with a different focus. The bike room has stationary bicycles connected to generators. In the reading room, there is a small library with bench seating. The game room invites visitors to play games stocked by jaZams, while the engine room has two pump stations with miniature hydroelectric generators. Finally, there is the sun room, which has seating with photovoltaic panels overhead. A wind farm of small windmills is on the roof.

“The energy generated from the active play will power lights, cell phone charging stations, and an active window display in jaZam’s storefront,” reads a press release about the project. “The parklet was built from scratch by all the lead sponsors with help from numerous volunteers — a true community effort.”

In addition to Mr. Weiss and jaZams, those sponsors include NRG Energy, Hamilton Building Supply, Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and the University’s School of Architecture. Also listed are Davidge Design Studio, Halo Pub, Kopp’s Cycle, MacLean Agency, the municipality of Princeton, the Nassau Inn, Palmer Square Management, Princeton Public Library, Smith’s Ace Hardware, Sustainable Princeton, Teresa Caffe, Thames & Kosmos, the bent spoon, and ThinkForm Architects.

Mr. Weiss said he was pleased to discover that Ms. Farrugia and Mr. Smith had similar thoughts about the design of the project. “Independently, at our first meeting, we had the same idea to use an energy theme,” he recalled. “JaZams is not
necessarily a popular location like Small World, which has a ton of foot traffic. It’s a little tucked away. We wanted to make it a destination and an attraction as opposed to something where you’d just sit there.”

The partners, in the press release, said they jumped at the opportunity to bring the parklet to the front of their store. “Working with our parklet partners has reaffirmed our hope that in creating this public space we would also deepen our community relationships,” Mr. Smith said. “We welcome everyone to come enjoy this little park, find a little inspiration, have some fun, and make a new community connection.”