Friday September 21st marked the 7th annual International PARK(ing) Day. Parking Day is a movement in which artists, designers and others come together to create a small refuge of public space in a metered parking spot. The event highlights the need for more public space by demonstrating the benefit of such a space by creating it for a day and showing that a functional, creative and beautiful public space can be created with relatively little effort in something as small as a parking space.
The movement started in 2005 in San Francisco initiated by an art and design shop called Rebar. The original objective was to spark discussions about the need for more public space and debate about how current spaces are used and how they could be used differently.
In Vancouver, the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) leads the PARK(ing) day charge. The network is dedicated to advocating the importance of public space and the livability within the city. This year for their PARK(ing) Day project the VPSN crew targeted the Joyce Collingwood neighbourhood around Kingsway and Joyce. The VPSN decided on this location because Kingsway is notorious for its loud and largely hostile pedestrian environment. The Joyce cross-street was chosen because it was consider to be one of the livelier sections of Kingsway deserving more attention by participants. The group picked a spot on the north side of Kingsway at Wessex Street, two streets east of Joyce. The three way pedestrian controlled intersection is home to three different vegetable markets and numerous restaurants, with London Drugs lying just west of the site and Safeway a block east.
In recognition of the autumnal equinox on which PARK(ing) day fell, The VPSN crew put together a harvest themed park that consisted of hay bale benches, a corn stalk windbreak, and the best bluegrass music they could muster. Passers by were also invited to create leaf print art as a small memento.
The reception of the small parklet was overwhelmingly positive. At first there were curious glances from a distance, but once the concept was communicated people were excited and wanted more. A common question was “Where else in town are they doing this?”. A proud look would creep across their faces when they were told that their neighbourhood was the only place.
One man was so impressed with the concept that he bought the whole VSPN crew lunch. Another neighbour brought down tea and coffee. The outpouring of interest, excitement and gratitude was no doubt triggered by a deeper yearning for better, more meaningful public spaces than what currently exists in the neighbourhood and a novel idea that they might not have thought of previously. When shown what is possible, a dialogue can begin in earnest.
Very often in the blur of everyday life it becomes easy to take your physical surroundings for granted—assuming it to be static and unmovable. PARK(ing) Day makes a small tweak to a small space, but it makes a big difference to the quality of the streetscape and brings people out into the street to converse and slow down where they might have otherwise might not have.
Andrew Cuthbert studied Geography at UVic and has worked for the provincial government and private environmental consultants as a GIS Analyst. Andrew has years of experience working in resource extraction, seeing those industries as the basis from which almost every other industry stands spurred his interest in design and urban sustainability and planning which led to his involvment with Spacing Magazine. He has taken additional courses at BCIT, Emily Carr and Langara College to bolster his education in design and sustainability.