Culpeper’s vibrant downtown has long been its jewel, a place for both locals and tourists alike to shop, eat, and explore. The town’s uniqueness lies in its location—tucked away in the heart of Virginia’s Piedmont region yet easily accessible from any direction—and its combination of award-winning wine and craft beer, upscale boutiques and rare antiques, excellent cuisine, and outdoor adventure. It’s a quintessential southern town filled with locals who love their home and tourists who love to make it home for the weekend.
When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, Culpeper businesses had to adjust like so many, finding innovative ways to keep residents and visitors safe while keeping doors open. The town had to get creative and embrace alternative methods for community development.
To that end, the Town of Culpeper Department of Tourism developed a Parklet Program to create outdoor spaces that serve as a community front porch.
Parklets are small outdoor areas along Culpeper’s most walkable streets that extend the sidewalks and create space for amenities like seating, landscaping, art and more. Taking up one to two on-street parking spaces, they feature café tables surrounded by safety fencing as well as beautifully curated flower boxes, umbrellas to provide shade, or other comforts.
These public spaces take advantage of the dynamic energy that already flows along Culpeper’s downtown streets, offering a new way to experience them. Parklets are not a new concept, but rather an established tool in urban placemaking. They bring a casual, comfortable living room feel outdoors.
These parklets also show Culpeper’s commitment to being a safe destination for tourists, a place where people can come spend a long weekend where the noise and chaos of crowded streets fade away, and they can reconnect with what truly matters.
In addition, parklets offer financial benefits for the business partners nearest them, and the town as a whole, by giving the public beautiful and comfortable places to support restaurants and businesses. They increase foot traffic and improve the pedestrian experience.
The parklets are an important part of local businesses’ phased approach to reopening fully to the public. As Culpeper businesses take every precaution necessary to keep everyone safe, parklets give another option for outdoor experiences as well as social distancing.
Currently, the parklets can be found in five locations on and near Davis Street. There’s one tucked away by Piedmont Steakhouse, and another in front of Poppy & Chalk—perfect for enjoying an ice cream from Scoop on Davis in the back of the vintage shop. A larger parklet has taken up residence in front of Raven’s Nest Coffeehouse, allowing multiple groups to enjoy a morning latte or fresh-baked lunch in the sunshine. The last two are situated in front of Pinto Thai and The Frenchmen’s Corner.
However, the beauty of these semi-permanent spaces is the ability to move them around to wherever makes sense—allowing the Town of Culpeper to place the parklets in front of different businesses from time to time, creating a new flow of energy and activity that feels fresh.
The turbulence of 2020 taught us many things—one is the value of a great outdoor space. That’s an idea that isn’t going anywhere, making the parklets a valuable addition to downtown that will continue.