This is the seventh year that PARK(ing) takes over the city of San Francisco. Tomorrow, September 21st, many parking spaces across town will be transformed into temporary parklets. Last year my favorite was Ritual’s coffee shop mini farm with a real sheep and petting zoo. I can’t wait to see what people have in mind this time around. Started in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio, PARK(ing) is now a global event that happens in cities all around the world, with artists, activists and citizens turning metered parking spaces into temporary public parks and other social spaces, as part of an annual event called “PARK(ing) Day.”
PARK(ing) Day invites people to rethink the way streets are used and promotes discussion around the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure. “Urban inhabitants worldwide recognize the need for new approaches to making cities,” says Rebar principal Matthew Passmore. ” The planning strategies that have led to traffic congestion, pollution and poor health in cities everywhere do not reflect contemporary values, nor are they sustainable. PARK(ing) Day raises these issues and demonstrates that even temporary projects can improve the character and quality of the city.”
Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has grown fast. The 2011 event included 975 “PARK” installations in more than 160 cities on six continents. From Iran to Madagascar, Venezuela to South Korea, the project continues to expand to urban centers across the globe, and participants have widened the scope of PARK installations to meet a range of unfulfilled social needs. “From public parks to free health clinics, from art galleries to demonstration gardens, PARK(ing) Day participants have claimed the metered parking space as a rich new territory for creative experimentation, activism, socializing and play,” says John Bela, a Rebar principal.
PARK(ing) Day is an “open-source” project initiated by Rebar, but built by independent groups around the globe who adapt the project to advance creative, social or political causes that are relevant to their local urban conditions. “While PARK(ing) Day may be temporary,” Bela adds, “the image of possibility it offers has lasting effects and is shifting the way streets are perceived and utilized.”
In recent years, PARK(ing) Day has inspired city governments to create legal mechanisms to extend the public realm into the parking lane. In San Francisco, the Pavement to Parks “Parklet” program provides a permit system for businesses, community groups and individuals to transform metered parking spaces into small “parklets” that are open to the public. In New York City the “pop up café” program offers similar permit system for local cafes wishing to offer sidewalk service.
Similar programs in other cities around the United States are currently in development. “What has been really gratifying,” says Rebar principal Blaine Merker, “is that PARK(ing) Day, which began as a guerilla art project, has been adopted by cities and integrated into their official planning strategies.
Judith Sakhri is a San Francisco journalist with a master’s degree in anthropology and a wandering eye for art, food, music, and sustainable living. She just finished her first novel, “Catching Red Herring.”