In 2005, San Francisco firm Rebar wanted to make a statement about the dwindling green space throughout their city. They selected a metered parking space, acquired a simple bench, a roll of artificial turf, and a tree. There they paid the meter for 2 hours and set up their parklet. When the meter expired, they rolled up their park and went about their day.
The photo shown on the right was taken from across the street of Rebar’s parklet. It went viral, and when the correspondence started coming in from across the country, Park(ing) Day was born. For the past 12 years designers, artists, and activists have been taking to the streets on the third Friday in September to bring awareness to the public about much needed green space in the ever expanding world of asphalt and concrete.
In addition to green space, this has also provided an opportunity for advocacy about other hot topics affecting the communities and public realms across the world. As landscape architects, this platform is usually taken on topics like water use, climate change, walkability, and urban design.
Photo: Brett Miller
My favorite aspect of Park(ing) Day is the role it plays in the community. Last year I organized the event at a train station, where we were able to bring commuters together in a space we had transformed from asphalt to green. The simple act of providing a communal green space in the midst of a parking lot provided commuters with an opportunity to come together and share a space. The impromptu parklet offered a space for people to sip their coffee and converse with someone they may have never met before, but shared a train daily.
Having an opportunity to set up these temporary parklets and provide this communal space offering social, environmental, and educational experiences for the community – even with something as simple as a parking space on a busy street in downtown Los Angeles – is what drives my passion for my profession. I’d encourage everyone to make it a point to seek out and visit a Park(ing) Day exhibit in your city.
Back when I was still in school, I remember discovering an unexpected installation of benches and potted plants – all constructed from paper and fabric – placed within the dean’s parking spot outside the architecture building.
“Is this a practical joke?” I asked my friend. You never knew whether something like this was an intended art piece or simply a practical joke someone made coming from our architecture school.
“It’s Park(ing) Day today, ” exclaimed my friend. This was the first time I had ever heard of this strange new “festival”.
I soon learned Park(ing) Day is an annual urban experiment where celebrants reclaim metered parking spaces across the city. Started in 2005 and begun by Rebar, a group of activist artists in San Francisco, Park(ing) Day was conceived to convert meter parking spot across the city into temporary installation pocket parks as the embodiment of the group’s manifesto to reclaim public open space for the greater good of the city. The idea was quickly embraced by the citizens of San Francisco, tapping into the population’s desire for a better urban life experience. “Park(ing) Day” became officially recognized as the third Friday of September, first across the States, and now spreading across the whole globe.
As landscape architects we would not dare miss the opportunity to participate in such a celebration of creative community reimagining and the promotion of improving the city for pedestrian. Back to 2007, AHBE participated in our first Park(ing) Day with a matrix of sunflowers set “growing” from the top of traffic cones. In 2011, we converted a metered spot with our own goat petting zoo. Then in 2012, we constructed the “Parkside Confessionals”, an installation inviting people to share their thoughts and tie them onto tree branches for all to read.
And in 2013 we worked in association with Perkins + Will, Altoon Partners, Glumac, John A Martin & Associates to create a temporary amphitheater within a meter parking spot along Grand Avenue, complete with live music, aka the “GrandVision”.
Tomorrow we’ll be celebrating this year’s Park(ing) Day again. Many creative groups are planning to take over a meter parking and create temporary parks for all to experience and enjoy. Registered locations are listed online here, offering a fun way to spend your lunch break and offer a glimpse of a city not defined by the presence of cars, but people, plants, and creativity.
And last, but not least: don’t forget to check out our park(ing) spot tomorrow too!