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MCDOT’s PARK(ing) Day 2017 display.

MCDOT's PARK(ing) Day 2017 display.


Friday: DC-Area Parking Spots Become Green Space with PARK(ing) Day

Curbside parking spots across the DC area will be transformed into small parks this Friday, September 21st from 9 AM to 4 PM. In DC, NoVA, and the Maryland suburbs, design firms, non-profits, and creative individuals will take your average metered slab of concrete and turn it into a place to sit, read, play games, eat your lunch, and more. Click the links below to see where you can find a PARKing spot near you.

Where do you plan to visit? I’m going to visit 2013 H Street NW, where GWU’s Sustainable Urban Planning Student Organization will have a park set-up. (Raise High!). The weather looks great!

PARKing Day History

PARK(ing) Day is an annual event held annually on the third Friday of September across the United States. In 2005, some rabble-rousing designers in San Francisco paid a curbside meter and set-up a park in the spot. They set-up shop, had some fun, then rolled up their sod after the two hours they paid for expired. In a silent-protest, subverting the power structure kind of way, they were making a crucial point.

“The great majority of San Francisco’s downtown outdoor space is dedicated to movement and storage of private vehicles, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to serve a broader range of public needs.”

This is true of most cities in the United States and the world. Urban design, how streets are laid out, buildings designed, and sidewalk space allocated, gives preference and dominance to cars. Main roads across America provide the storefront land to hunks of metal that we use only to get there. The message is that city blocks are no place to stay for a long time and enjoy; you’re just there for one thing, and then you’ll leave, or you’re just driving through without the desire for whimsy and play.

PARK(ing) Day is a form of tactical urbanism. In a phrase, the goal is to challenge the existing design of a place, and therefore how people think about the space, with minimal government involvement, and without a big budget.

How Cities Are Giving Space Back to Bikes, Pedestrians, and Parks

For the past few decades, designers like landscape architects and city planners have reimagined the ideal urban space. Cars belong still, but in a much more limited capacity. 21st Century urban dwellers desire an active streetscape that includes room for relaxing, commerce, and travel of all modes.

You all love eating on porches and drinking on rooftops so much. That’s precisely what we mean. Cities should be places to stay and enjoy, rather than the remote outpost you go to get your dry cleaning or rock your 9-to-5. Jane Jacobs, the only person I call a “hipster” as a compliment, kind of invented this thinking starting in the 1960s. She saw the ideal urban environment as a “street ballet” where all kinds of formal and informal co-existed, commerce and play. She died shortly after the PARK(ing) movement started, but I’m sure she would’ve endorsed the message of the original parking space pop-up park.

Paying the meter of a parking space enables one to lease precious urban real estate on a short-term basis. The PARK(ing) project was created to explore the range of possible activities for this short-term lease, and to provoke a critical examination of the values that generate the form of urban public space.”

How the PARKs get Created and Managed

PARK(ing) day is open source, which means you could pay the meter in front of your apartment building, lay down a rug, and invite your friends to hang out. That’s kind of the point. The idea went viral after pictures of the original park spread online. Folks started doing it all over the world. You’re sticking it to the man, who thinks this is best as a parking space and benefits financially from its use.

The idea of PARK(ing) day went mainstream enough that local governments started co-opting the movement. The first PARKs followed loose guidelines, then the suits at City Hall added permit applications with PDFs to download and oh my god why. Here in DC, government authorities like DDOT and the Montgomery County Department of Transporation solicit proposals, approve them, and sanction the activity. In a big city like DC, the process is chaotic in spirit but bureaucratic in execution.

How to Get Involved in PARK(ing) Day.

If you look at DC’s list of approved parks, they are created mostly by architecture and design firms, development associations like NoMa Business Improvement District (BID), and non-profits with design-proficient folks.

If you are interested in and inspired by these PARKs, I encourage you to apply next year. If you live in a suburb or small town, check your city or county websites. If they don’t have a program, you should ask them to start one. If they aren’t interested, set up a PARK on your own. It will look great on Instagram whether you have a permit or not.

Next year’s PARK(ing) Day is Friday, September 20, 2019. Check back next year with DDOT’s website for an application:

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