Park(ing) Day – the one day each September when assorted fun-loving artists, advocates, and weirdos, and increasingly big-name design firms and city agencies, turn curb parking spaces into miniature parks – has certainly become more professionalized in the years since PlanPhilly began covering it.
What originated as a scrappy DIY project of the Rebar design firm in San Francisco has become a national institution.
In Philadelphia this year, there were over 50 different participants, including government agencies like the Planning Commission, the Parking Authority, and SEPTA, design firms like Olin and EwingCole, and various businesses, non-profits, and individuals.
But while the new holiday has become more widespread and accepted since its founding, the animating idea is no less controversial. Park(ing) Day puts a happy face on an incendiary premise – that curb parking spaces are really public spaces in the broadest sense of the word, and that the unthinking allocation of every car-sized segment of curbside right-of-way to idle vehicles is actually a consequential political choice in need of critical reexamination.
Many recent streets project proposals in Philadelphia have tended to treat existing curb parking as an immovable fact of nature that can only be designed around, and the cumulative result has been a noticeable lowering of expectations for what can be achieved in the realm of pedestrian and bicycle safety infrastructure.
For one day a year, Park(ing) Day participants gleefully reject these dominant political values, asserting the idea that streets belong to people, not parked cars. Some make the point about economic waste directly (the Planning Commission’s parklet showed how many lunch ingredients can fit into a parking space) while others prefer to use their spaces for apolitical art or entertainment.
Here are a few slideshows of some of the best parklets I saw riding around Center City last Friday afternoon.