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September 24, 2009

Take a Parking Space and Make Paradise

The new trend to convert parking into parks

Friday September 19 was PARK Day, an exercise in creative thinking about the commons in which citizens transform parking spaces into parks.

A huge swath of American cities and suburbs is reserved solely for parked cars. Yet the land occupied by on-street parking actually belongs to all of us, and some of it could be used to bring some much needed green and public space to our communities.

And that’s what happened, at least for a while, on PARK Day this year.

In San Francisco”, neighbors plugged the parking meters and set out potted plants and seats to enjoy a sunny day in their makeshift park. Click here to see a video.

A sidewalk café, complete with a cello player was set up in one parking spot, while Solar power panels were set up in another, making a point that the streets are a commons belonging to all of us and could be used to generate renewable energy. (This idea that is being explored in Phoenix by On The Commons Fellow Kathryn Milun ).

In Minneapolis they rolled out turf or green carpeting in parking places and set up grills to cook bratwurst for picnic.

PARK day has been celebrated since 2005, when the San Francisco-based art and activist studio “Rebar:“http://www.rebargroup.org/ decided to draw attention to the fact that 70 percent of outdoor space in downtown San Francisco was for vehicles not people..

“The hope is that the unusual sight of a parking spot transformed into a small public park will lead people to question how public space is allocated between cars and people,” wrote Ben Fried of Transportation Alternatives in New York City, another site of PARK Day festivities this year. The idea has now spread as far as Trapani, Italy.

Now, permanent parks are sprouting in places once ruled by Fords and Toyotas, reports Allison Arrieff in a New York Times blog . In addition to New York’s well-publicized new public squares carved out of parking and traffic lanes along Broadway, San Francisco has launched a Pavements to Parks program that hands sections of the streets back to people. Indeed, Rebar was chosen as the designer of one of the three trial projects.