Park(ing) Day shows value of green space

Asphalt parking spaces take on new look as businesses put on displays with animals, activities

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2014

“Having grass and having conversations can really spark street life and activity,” said Martina Haggerty, a principal planner with the city’s long-range planning department.

It was not cars, trucks and motorcycles but baby goats, peace flags and beanbags filling parking spots around Providence Friday as part of the reimagining of urban space during the city’s second annual celebration of Park(ing) Day.

Organizers of Park(ing) Day have designated the third Friday in September as an occasion for community businesses and local artists around the world to take over public parking spots to raise awareness of the need for more community green space.

Local parking space transformations occured in downtown Providence, in Fox Point and on the West and East Sides, and a protected bike lane on Broadway Street was also converted.

The original Park(ing) Day emerged in 2005 when a group of artists from Rebar, a San Francisco design studio that recently closed, converted a metered parking space into a public park complete with its own sod, bench and landscaping for two hours at a time, said Kurt Van Dexter, an organizer of the Providence event.

When other cities began to express interest in replicating the idea, Rebar decided to promote it as an open-source project, according to the organization’s website. Nine years later, Park(ing) Day is celebrated in over a hundred cities worldwide, with Providence joining in last year.

Unlike the original undertaking in San Francisco, in which organizers reserved the spot by feeding a parking meter, Park(ing) Day in Providence is financed by organizations paying for advertisements and permits, Van Dexter said.

Each participating business designs its own parklet: The Lincoln School created a storytelling space, where passersby could toss beanbags into a bucket to win a free book, said Kate Lenz, director of the nonprofit Rhode Island Center for the Book.

The Providence branch of Zipcar transformed its own parking spot into a green space with benches and snacks. “We wanted to give people a few snacks, just so they could kick back a little, (and) try to keep it as green as possible,” said Jason Araya, brand ambassador for Zipcar Providence.

NAIL Communications, a Providence-based advertising agency, brought in baby goats and miniature pigs for its parklet.

Nonprofits and governmental groups also took part in the day. The city planning department used its space to promote the Providence Streetcar project, which received $13 million in TIGER grants — a federal fund program for infrastructure initiatives — last week, said Martina Haggerty, a principal planner with the long range planning department.

“It’s a great day to show what parking spots can be used for when they’re not parking spots,” Haggerty said. “Having grass and having conversations can really spark street life and activity.”

The Groden Center Greenhouse, a vocational site for individuals with autism and related disabilities, decorated its parklet on Broadway Street with plants grown by clients, said Teresa Comstock, greenhouse coordinator.

Peace flags created by Rhode Island residents surrounded the Peace Flag Project parklet to promote September as a month commemorating peace in conjunction with the United Nations’ Peace Day on Sunday. The flags are “expressions of a better world,” said Ginny Fox, founder of the Peace Flag Project. Park(ing) Day fits in with the idea of nonviolence, Fox said, adding that it’s about “bringing people together in ways that they can meet and enjoy one another.”

Most people who stopped by the parklets were previously unaware of Park(ing) Day, several organizers said. “Even though this is the second year, … it’s still new to them,” Van Dexter said.

Though some people complained that the day leaves the city with fewer parking spots, “with the amount of parking spaces in the city, this is negligible,” Van Dexter said. “You take asphalt and turn it into a community space for a day. Why not?”

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