Germantown’s PARK(ing) day features artistic energy, civic collaboration

Germantown residents didn’t seem to mind giving up several parking spaces for some unorthodox temporary arts and community installations which were part of an international event which came to the neighborhood on Friday.

Germantown’s 2012 PARK(ing) Day participants said that their stations, set up in metered parking spaces commandeered worldwide for the day-long event, attracted many curious passersby.

On the 300 block of W. Chelten Ave., the Germantown United Community Development Corporation rolled several giant triangular boards into two parking spaces.

Ideas for neighborhood improvement

On the street side, they showcased many aspects of the newly-approved Philadelphia Planning Commission proposals for the Germantown corridor.

The display also showed the results of several official neighborhood surveys on improvements in which residents called for standard trash cans, benches and bike racks.

“It’s great for the public to see what’s going on,” said Megan Fitzpatrick, who coordinated PARK(ing) Day efforts for the GUCDC.

On the other side of the displays, passersby were invited to write their own ideas for Germantown on giant blackboards.

Many participants said, and wrote, that the Chelten Avenue corridor already has too many dollar and sneaker stores. To attract more shoppers, there needs to be a better range of options, went the general consensus.

Other messages on the blackboards included appreciation for Germantown’s racial diversity and calls for more restaurants, water fountains and SEPTA benches for senior citizens. Others hoped for cleaner streets.

Looking toward the past

Over at the corner of Armat Street and Germantown Avenue, Historic Germantown Executive Director Barbara Hogue welcomed curious residents to a display focused on the neighborhood’s past.

A large rectangle of artificial grass softened the street, and banners showing a Germantown timeline (from the town’s establishment in 1683 and 1688’s first public anti-slavery protest in the country to include whites, to the ongoing Potter’s Field controversy) were affixed to a makeshift perimeter of rusted railings.

“Lots of folks stop by; some for a minute, some for a while,” said Hogue, explaining that participants were invited to affix their own Post-It notes to the timeline, adding their responses or additional historical events.

She was touched by the many heartfelt responses to some of Germantown’s lesser-known claims to fame, especially in the civil rights arena.

“My life is richer for having seen this,” one visitor wrote.

“Young people need to see this,” added another.

Hogue particularly enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek response to the 1945 timeline item announcing the admission of African-Americans into the Germantown Friends Meeting: “Praise God for finally loving all people 66 years ago.”

Arts in the 100 block of W. Chelten

The liveliest parking space was the Germantown Artists’ Roundable station at 115 W. Chelten Ave, headed by photographer Tieshka Smith and featuring a lineup of poets, singers, musicians and drummers, as well as a temporary street installation from local artist Renny Molenaar.

Molenaar’s piece, a garden of lost plastic flower barrettes growing on wire stems, occupied the taped-off asphalt of the parking space. A rectangular cream-white carpet scattered with folding chairs on the adjacent sidewalk marked the performance area.

The Roundtable commenced festivities at 10 a.m. and at noon, they observed a moment of silence in honor of the International Day of Peace.

A small but rowdy crowd, many spooning water ice out of Styrofoam cups, lined up in the shade of the Sun’s Discount Store awning to listen to the acts.

“We got a lot of folks curious about what’s going on,” Smith said.

So many new poets introduced themselves during the course of the day that Roundtable organizers agreed to add an additional hour to the schedule, from 5 to 6 p.m. for an impromptu open mic.

Open-air venue challenges

As singer/songwriter Bethlehem Roberson took the microphone for a mid-afternoon song, followed by poet “Alllisss” and musician Quincy Stallworth, every minute or two brought a squealing bus, sound of car horns or passing cell-phone gabbers within a few feet of the microphone.

Performers also competed gamely with the blasting sidewalk radio of the AZ Budget store on the other side of Chelten, as the rich, greasy smell of the adjacent Popeye’s wafted over it all.

As the afternoon shade crept toward the curb, the noisy public setting did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the Roundtable PARK(ing) Day attendees who whooped and clapped for encores from the performers.

“It’s nice to have people gather in this spot,” said Smith. “It’s not a typical space, like a café.”

The shoe and discount stores were very much in evidence, but the Roundtable and GUCDC turned them into a backdrop for something new on this day.

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