There's an old saying in San Francisco: Every time someone checks in at a parklet, an angel gets it's wings.

Full disclosure: No one has ever actually said that.

Local non-profit Gray Area Foundation For The Arts has teamed up with Intersection for the Arts, Ideo, Rebar, the 5m Project and the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation for a new project called Urban Prototying that attempts to marry technology and innovative public spaces.


The idea is to create a sort of competition where small groups would work to create projects spanning the divide between public space and the digital network. The mid-Market-based arts organization held a month-long call for submissions and, out of the over 90 ideas pitched, selected the most promising 19 to receive grants and be showcased at the San Francisco Street Exposition in October.

"We've been seeing a parallel between DIY urbanism and the DIY civic hacking worlds and we wanted to bring these two communities together to see what possibilities could come out of that," Gray Area's Jake Levitas told The Huffington Post. "We wanted to see what would happen if we took the software development cycle applied it to urban space."

The group held a similar festival in Singapore earlier this year.

Some of the accepted proposals include a fresh take on public urinals, a go-anywhere playground that fits in a suitcase and citywide heart rate monitor.

All the projects are open-source, and the grants have been limited to about $1,000 each. Both of those conditions were imposed in order to make neither access to information nor cost of construction a serious impediment to replicating these ideas in other cities.

"One of the reasons parklets were so successful around the world is because, from the beginning, people released information online about to build them," said Levitas. "Any of the Urban Prototyping projects that look appealing to someone in Barcelona or New York should be able to be made to happen there."

If you have a great idea for a project but missed the initial call, take heart. GAFFTA will host a three-day hackathon in late September that gives people another shot at creating the next great urban planning/digital technology hybrid.

All of the selected projects will be displayed at the San Francisco Street Exposition on October 20 and 21.

Check out this slideshow of the selected projects:

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  • Anytype

    AnyType is a creative mobile application that lets people transform elements and objects in the physical world into novel digital typefaces.

  • Auditory Information

    The proposed presentation will be an array of loudspeakers mounted on one of the many chain-link fences in the 5M neighborhood.

  • Clip + Slide

    CLIP + SLIDE transforms stairs into slides and musical instruments, creating moments of play and joy in an urban game of chutes and ladders.

  • Darkness Map

    Darkness Map is a crowd-sourced data visualization that portrays the amount of light and darkness in the nighttime urban environment on a human scale.

  • Death of the Bench

    Death of the Bench is a flexible, secure, and scalable platform for deploying movable chairs to facilitate flexible and dynamic public spaces.

  • DIY Traffic Counter

    The DIY Traffic Counter is a low-cost, open-source measurement device that allows anyone to accurately measure and visualize street traffic counts.

  • Fruit Fence

    The Fruit Fence is a planting structure tailored for fences in public spaces that features web-enabled sensor devices to improve community care of distributed neighborhood trees.

  • Glowing Crosswalk

    Glowing Crosswalk provides increased visibility of pedestrians within a crosswalk at night via high-output LED lamps at crosswalk entrances that will complement existing street lighting.

  • Instant [play] Ground

    INSTANT [play]GROUND is a portable pedestrian-scale gameboard which fits in a suitcase and activates alleys and other neglected sites.

  • PPPlanter

    The PPPlanter is a scalable, reconfigurable public urinal and sink that uses modular biofilters to treat the wastewater.

  • Pulse of the City

    Pulse of the City empowers pedestrians with self-awareness of their heart rates in a fun, playful manner with the goal of encouraging a constructive dialogue on how to design the healthier and more livable cities of the future.

  • Shared Cinema

    Shared Cinema is a public video jukebox that activates urban spaces for pedestrians.

  • Smart Bus Stops Done DIrt Cheap

    Smart Bus Stops Done Dirt Cheap provides passengers with a text messaging service which answers local questions using a specific bus stop ID's geo-spatial database.

  • Street Sensing: Seeing Tiny Particles

    Street Sensing uses an Arduino AirCasting sensing platform to tranform common light poles into pollution measuring units that give real-time insights into their local air quality.

  • Ten Mile Garden

    The 10-Mile Garden will temporarily convert San Francisco's fire hydrants into sites for bio-swales or mini gardens which add green spaces to the city and create a new water system in support of the urban ecology.

  • URBAN_Parasol

    URBAN_Parasol is a modular series of shelter-shade structures assembled from a combination of open-source design 3D-printed joints and ready-made objects.

  • Wind I Break

    Wind I Break is a series of modular windbreaks exploring how space can be activated during uncomfortable moments of high wind activity.