How we can creatively re-invent Parking and Street Spaces to transform our Cities into Vibrant Public Spaces?

PARK(ing) Day is an internationally recognised annual event on the 3rd Friday in September when parking spaces around the world are transformed into public recreational spaces, parks, and fun themes.

Park(ing) Day originated in October 2005 as the brain-child of Rebar, a downtown San Francisco design studio, working at the intersections of art, design, and activism. The concept of a park in a parking spot was the first spark for PARK(ing) Day. The intention was to create a worldwide movement to challenge and repurpose urban space by temporarily transforming metered parking spaces into public parks. 

Rebar created the first “PARK” quite simply. It first filled a few parking meters with coins for several hours, effectively renting out a seven by 22 foot curb-side parking space. And then they rolled out some grass, added a potted tree and popped a bench out on it. Voila! The first instant temporary “PARK” in a parking spot! [ Source ]

Today, PARK(ing) Day is a worldwide phenomenon with cities such as London, Singapore, Dallas, and Dublin joining in this unique one-day event.

The creative minds out there have reinvented parking spaces in all manner of ways; picnic areas, yoga and outdoor exercise studios, mini-golf courses, mini-pools, outdoor plazas, faux beaches, theme parks, craft studios, outdoor offices, art exhibitions, all sorts of other quirky spaces; even a Zumba studio!

Who would have ever guessed we’d use what we learned from this annual parking day celebration to assist us with the “new world” as we know it, to manage and re-purpose our cities as a result of the 2020 global pandemic?

As retail and restaurants across the globe are starting to open under mandated social distancing guidelines, they are being supported and encouraged by their local councils to expand their premises into neighbouring sidewalks, and public spaces including curb-sides and street parking.

From this quirky creative idea, we are learning invaluable lessons. The creative foresight of PARK(ing) Day has enabled us to look beyond the convenience of parking a car on the street, to better understand the need, ability, and desire to repurpose our city streets.

Physical and social distancing is forcing us to re-shape our thinking around the planning and design of our urban environments. It’s our cities and our residents that are reaping the benefits of these changes.

And due to COVID-19, we have embraced it quickly and by necessity.

On 18 August 2020 the NSW Government announced 27 regional councils and 14 Sydney councils as recipients under the “Streets as Shared Spaces” program. This is a new $15 million grants scheme designed to transform streets into vibrant, pedestrian-friendly public spaces. The goal is for these councils to deliver temporary street transformations, including pilot pedestrian and cycleway connections, pop-up parklets, and improved lighting, by reclaiming little-used carparks and roads across NSW. [ Source ]

Globally initiatives are being devised to help businesses to use public spaces to conduct business safely. In Australia many local councils in NSW and QLD are waiving foothpath dining fees up until 30 June 2021, recognising how essential it is to utilize public space to meet physical distancing regulations and to support local businesses during COVID-19.

Reviewing of streetscape regulations is now an international trend. In the US for example, in Cleveland, Ohio local councils are considering tweaking right-of-way rules to allow restaurants and bars to occupy space in certain streets. In Portland, Oregon a streetscape design permit program is currently underway to enable neighbourhood streets to be turned into outdoor plazas. As part of the City of Hoboken, N.J’s small business recovery plan, a task force of political, business, civic leaders, as well as city staff has been established to examine new and creative strategies to support local restaurants re-opening. [ Source ]

From actual usable space to safety considerations to regulations to financials, PARK(ing) Day and the “Streets as Shared Spaces” program provides us new insight and a great look how fun, annual celebrations can serve us well in a whole new way, creatively thinking “outside the parking space” to re-purpose our urban resources.

Personally, I’m loving the way this is all headed and how we are all on board to make our cities better places to live.

Angelique Mentis is the Founder of Smart Cities start-up Simply Parking and a passionate advocate of the use of how we can collectively work together to transform our cities into smarter, more sustainable, environmentally-friendly, and vibrant communities.

So, now over to you. How do you think we can all work together to make our planet even more sustainable?