Park(ing) Day’s Roadside Attraction

The founders of Park(ing) Day discuss the birth of their idea and how it became a global phenomenom

Park(ing) Day is an annual tradition of turning parking spaces into actual parks that will be held this year on Friday, Sept. 16th. (SV Johnson)

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In September 2006—with support from the Trust for Public Land (a nonprofit land conservation organization)—Rebar announced the first official Parking Day. The concept went viral, attracting participants in Italy, Scotland, England and other countries. By Parking Day 2010 there were 850 documented parks in 183 cities, across 30 countries and six continents.

There’s something surreal about seeing flat gray parking spaces transformed into a tiny universe. During the five years since Parking Day has gone international, there have been some sensational uses of those humble bits of real estate.

“People have done some beautiful sculptures,” Passmore reflects. “Some parking spaces have hosted music festivals. There have been demonstrations of solar power, as well as xeriscaping: landscaping that requires no water and little maintenance. One of my all-time favorites was a clinic, where nurses from a San Francisco hospital set up to give free health advice.” Other spaces have featured inflatable pools, ball pits, even a small library. In a Washington, D.C. space, a team from the State Department created a grass-lined badminton court.

Rebar doesn’t oversee any of these projects. “Our job now,” Passmore asserts, “is to keep the spirit of the event alive, and maintain the generosity, playfulness and absurdity at the core of Parking Day.”

There are some rules. Rebar has trademarked “Parking Day,” and asks that participants agree to the simple terms on its website. These include strictly noncommercial use of the parking space and respect for the maximum time allotted on the meters. “I think the message is much more powerful that way,” says Passmore. “So we encourage people to stick to the time limit, and move when it expires.”

In practice, many people stay put all day. I wondered if anyone had actually gotten a ticket.

“I don't think so,” Passmore says. “I did ask one meter maid about it. He said no, he wouldn't know what the infraction was! Also, a ticket goes to a license plate—and there's no license plate, right?”

One of Rebar’s goals for Parking Day was that people would find ways to transform their city landscape on a more permanent basis. Passmore—whose father was a San Francisco city planner for more than 40 years—sees it as a philosophical issue.

“Because what you're doing, when you take part in Parking Day, is raising a bunch of very interesting questions. How is urban space divided? Whose values are being expressed? And how can you, as an artist and a citizen, participate in those improvements—even on a temporary basis?”

These questions were taken to heart in San Francisco. In 2009, inspired by Parking Day, the city’s Planning Department sat down with Rebar and created a permit process that, as of 2010, allows some metered parking spaces to be transformed into semi-permanent public plazas.


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