EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay was originally posted on September 23, 2015
Yesterday my friends and I pulled off what may have been St. Petersburg, Florida’s first foray into International PARK(ing) Day.
PARK(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks. It was started in 2005 as an experiment by Matthew Passmore and John Bela of Rebar Group, Inc. to bring more public park space to downtown San Francisco.
(At this point, the original PARK(ing) Day website has been taken down, but when I wrote this post, it was still up and looking a bit neglected.) On a whim, I decided all my urban planning and bike loving friends should participate in this event, so with only 10 days’ notice, I sent out a “We should do this, but I realize there isn’t much time” message to the group.
Fortunately, they are all up for fun, kooky things. Cesar Morales of the St. Pete Bike Co-op immediately offered to bring a truck full of outdoor furniture, and his enthusiasm got us rolling.
My friend Joyce and I arrived with a car full of fun props around 5:30 pm and scoped out two spots on Bayshore Drive conveniently across from the lovely on-street bike racks. Our view was right out onto the bay. Now, I know what you’re thinking – there’s plenty of public space in that area. Why have it there? We held it there this year because of the visibility but also as a way to showcase how lovely Bayshore would be as the pedestrian promenade envisioned in the Waterfront Master Plan adopted by the City of St. Pete.
We brought plenty of quarters with us because we wanted to legally and legitimately “rent” our parking spaces, just like we would have if we’d parked our cars there. (When the meter reader drove past, she didn’t even give us a second glance.)
We unloaded our furniture and spread it out across the two spaces. It looked OK, but it seemed to be missing something. That’s when Lela Gonzales of Help Earth Ride showed up with a turf rug and Vanessa Wheeler of ShiftStPete came with an indoor rug. Now it was starting to feel homey!
With our two lounge areas set up, people started to relax and hang out. Shortly thereafter, someone on foot stopped and wanted to play our giant Jenga game (courtesy of Cesar Morales and Danielle LeTendre of The Local COOP). Community interaction! Yes! We also had several people stop in response to our “FREE HUGS” sign. One of them returned 30 minutes later with another family member so she could receive hugs, too!
We had babies. We had toddlers. We had strangers come up wondering what we were doing. Someone came by looking for directions, and we gave him a seat and a magazine to read while we tried to find the answer on our phones. We had music. We had hula hooping. At its largest, our group was 25-30 people.
The city police drove by several times without seeming to give us a second thought. (Thank you!) The meter reader drove by several times but could surely see on her computer that we were paid up. We even put some coins in one of our neighbors’ expired meters so they could avoid getting a ticket.
While we may not have hit the nail exactly on the head of the inspiration behind PARK(ing) Day, it was a great trial run, and we did get people thinking. Plus, it was a tremendously fun guerrilla exercise in challenging the status quo with regard to cars and parking. In fact, it was so much fun that many expressed interest in doing it more often throughout the year. I’m already thinking of other high-impact places to locate it.
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