Small Towns, Big Impact: Bowling Green, OH

Smart Growth America partnered with T-Mobile to support Bowling Green’s Parklet Project, converting would-be parking space into appealing dining and retail space.

Launched in 2021, T-Mobile’s Hometown Grant program is investing in the power of community-driven initiatives to ensure small towns can connect, innovate, and grow together, dedicating $25 million through 2026 to support community development projects in towns nationwide. We partnered with T-Mobile to deliver technical assistance to six of these communities. To learn more, visit

A peaceful calm settles over the Bowling Green Parklets as the sun sets behind an open street free of car traffic

Project background

Bowling Green, Ohio is a town of just over 30,000 people and about 20 miles south of Toledo. It is home to a vibrant, diverse community, with a large youth population provided by Bowling Green State University (BGSU). Since 2021, city officials and local residents have placed an emphasis on placemaking efforts, including improvements to walkability, expanding wayfinding and signage, and adopting Complete Streets policies to slow traffic. Part of this effort is the Parklet Project, originally introduced by Rachel Phipps, a council member for the City of Bowling Green. During COVID, the city supported small businesses by allowing the expansion of dining and gathering space onto sidewalks, and then, with the passage of the parklet ordinance, into the street. The three original parklets, also called “dining decks,” allowed merchants in downtown Bowling Green to use city parking spaces in front of their businesses as dining and retail space. The installations also acted as a beautification project, with each parklet having its own unique design and decoration.

Goals and outcomes

In the beginning, the primary goal of the Parklet Project was helping local restaurants, coffee shops, and other local businesses to open safely as COVID restrictions were being lifted. However, the group started to see other incidental benefits in the months that followed. First, the parklets are temporary installations—for now. They are assembled by local arts and design students at BGSU when the season begins in April, and then disassembled and placed into storage during the winter months. This is an effective way to ensure that the parklets are being used for their highest and best use during warm months when it is comfortable to sit outside.

Another benefit was the opportunity to engage the community, especially young artists. The first parklets were designed by Ellen Fure Smith, a Parklet Project team member, artist, and owner of Little Bare Furniture. For the second round, designs were chosen through a competition among local arts students.

A secondary benefit recognized by the Parklet Project was the ability to test traffic calming methods along Main Street in downtown Bowling Green. Like many small cities, Bowling Green has several lanes of traffic running through downtown, a design that makes the environment uncomfortable for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other modes of transportation. In an effort to soften the built environment, the city used the parklets to show local officials, residents, and businesses how beneficial narrower, slower, and less car-oriented streets could be.

Another outcome of the Parklet Project was the huge amount of demand for the structures. Local businesses have seen the success that the parklets bring to their associated businesses, not only in terms of foot traffic and revenue, but also marketing through unique design. Along with business support, the biggest takeaways from the Parklet Project has been that when you weave public improvement efforts together, the result is a stronger social fabric and a more vibrant community where more people want to live, work, and raise a family.

Seeing the benefits of slower streets and public space reclamation has led to some surprising long term results as well. Last year, for example, the city completed an entire overhaul of Bowling Green’s zoning code. The new code was written with an emphasis on improving the pedestrian experience and allowing for more dense housing development in and around downtown.

With construction of a parklet complete, a group of young people smiles triumphantly from atop the new space

Financing and construction

The total cost for the Parklet Project, as it currently stands, was just under $64,000. With a $50,000 Hometown Grant from T-Mobile, collaborative partnerships with local organizations like Grounds for Thought, Juniper Brewing Company, Kabob IT, Flatlands, and Ohio Logistics, the idea for the project was able to become a reality. With the help of local volunteers, the original installation of the three parklets was a huge success. Increased demand and funding support allowed the city to increase the number of available parklets from three to seven. Harnessing the interest and support for the parklets and the benefits they provided, the city’s annual Holiday Parade—the largest in northwest Ohio—centered on the different parklets, raffling them off to local businesses. This is just one example of the innovation and creativity from the Chamber of Commerce and the city to increase participation in local projects and engage local residents.

Community impacts

A couple clinks glasses in the new parklet dining space, surrounded by flowers and streetside shops

The Parklet Project has had many wide-reaching impacts on the community in Bowling Green. When the project initially started, prior to the T–Mobile grant, it was a purely grassroots effort. Funds were initially raised by individual contributions and local leaders focused on spreading the word about the project to build a broad base of support. Although it is an ongoing process to engage with the community and provide information about the Parklet Project and those like it, early, consistent communication was very beneficial. In the end, it was vital to engage the business community downtown, to tell them about the Parklets, and then show them how the extra space could support their businesses. This was especially important during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, as outdoor interactions were recommended for public health. The parklets have received copious amounts of support from the community in terms of donations, engagement, and volunteering to construct and deconstruct the parklets.

Through the success of the Parklet Project, the Chamber of Commerce was able to offer several awards to minority students in the area and provide opportunities for them to display their art in the community and on the parklets themselves. In a community that has over a 30% poverty rate and a relatively high proportion, as compared to the state, of minority communities (5.7% Black, 6.5% Hispanic/Latino, and 1.4% Asian), scholarship and entrepreneurship opportunities like those provided by the Parklet Project are vital to community health and long-term vitality.

Since the parklets have been popping up on Main Street in downtown Bowling Green, the city has seen a larger conversation about designing and using public spaces. A city-wide initiative, called Downtown Forward, is now spearheading a strategic pedestrian plan for Bowling Green, and the city’s Economic Development Master Plan has added a ‘quality of place’ initiative. Outside of shifts in local policy, the parklets have ushered in a culture shift in prioritizing people first when making investments in land use.

We built upon our history working with rural communities by providing technical assistance to a select group of T-Mobile’s Hometown grant recipients. Read about all six communities by clicking the links below.

Land Use and Development