Welcome to the MLK Cafe Parklet project, located at 3860 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, in the Longfellow neighborhood of Oakland, California. 

Longfellow is known for its wide variety of transportation options including BART at MacArthur Station, several AC Transit Transbay lines, the Emery-Go-Round, local shuttles, freeway connections and many bike lanes. In fact, the neighborhood has a deep public transportation history and the MLK Cafe Parklet pays homage to the rich and vibrant past of this transit corridor.

Trolley #7 at the corner of 47th and Grove streets (image by Western Railway Museum)

The design for the parklet was inspired by a photograph taken a few blocks away from where the MLK Cafe is located now. During the late 1800s, the Oakland Consolidated Street Railway Company transported residents from Berkeley to Oakland via Grove Street (later renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Way in 1984). In fact, before the time of railways and back when the landscape was covered in farmland, Grove Street was the thoroughfare used to transport East Bay residents via horse and buggy to downtown Oakland.

However, times have changed. Today the neighborhood is bordered by Interstate 580 and Highway 24 and the seamless connection between cities no longer exists. The farmlands are long gone and public green space in Longfellow is limited. Grove Shafter Park for example, one of only two parks in the neighborhood, is divided in half by a freeway. It's no surprise that this area of Oakland has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country.

In response to the lack of open space in the area, the MLK Cafe partnered with the Longfellow Community Association and hosted Park(ing) Day in 2013. The neighbors foraged lemons from backyard trees and the cafe served free lemonade to passersby from a temporary astroturf lined parking space. District One Councilmember Dan Kalb stopped in for a visit, children played hopscotch on the sidewalk, and the seed to make this public right-of-way a permanent space for residents to enjoy was planted.

In September 2014, the City of Oakland announced that 15 city-sponsored parklet permits were available. MLK Cafe owner Asmerom Ghebremicael reached out to local urban planner/designer Yuriko Jewett to see what was possible. The two applied for and received one of the 15 spots in January 2015. Jewett then teamed with architect James Gallagher, artist Shayne Martinsen, and Liisa Pine Schoonmaker, chair of Laney Community College's Welding Technology Department, and her students, as well as many Longfellow neighborhood volunteers to move the project forward.

During the community outreach phase of the project, residents voiced that many young families live in the area and having a nearby place for children to play is desired. With this in mind, the parklet features train conductor play areas containing navigation equipment for children to enjoy. The parklet aligns with the existing outdoor dining area of the cafe, allowing parents to share a meal while maintaining a watchful eye. The parklet also features movable tables and chairs to allow flexibility of the space and ensure that the area can be used by everyone of all ages and abilities.

Parking Day 2013 with Councilmember Dan Kalb

Architect James Gallagher working with Laney College students to build the play components of the parklet

Day one of construction (photo by Emily Gallagher)

Asmerom Ghebremicael (right) partnered with Yuriko Jewett (left) to build the parklet (photo by Crista Modglin)

The Oakland Consolidated Street Railway began service on May 12, 1891. It was the talk of the town since it was the first trolley car in Oakland to operate using electricity. The event was featured on the front page of the evening edition of the Oakland Tribune. Below is an excerpt from one of three articles about the railway that appeared in the newspaper that night.

In honor of this special day in Oakland transportation history, the grand opening of the MLK Cafe Parklet took place on May 12, 2016 – exactly 125 years after the Oakland Consolidated Street Railway's maiden voyage. Please stop by and support this new public space in the Longfellow neighborhood of Oakland.

    May 12, 2016 Parklet Grand Opening.  Photo by Gene Anderson.