A tea party on parking day 2013 in Hartford Conn. Photo by grhartfordarts on Flickr.A tea party on parking day 2013 in Hartford Conn. Photo by grhartfordarts on Flickr.

Guerrilla Urbanism: Parking Day

Community and Neighborhoods No Comments 492

Urbanism comes in many forms; but it’s not always a philanthropic foundation, business, non-profit, or government entity that makes things happen. Guerrilla Urbanism is the practice of re-claiming an already in use for another purpose. It can be something small, like a  Rainbow Crochet Tree or something big like a worldwide phenomenon of re-claiming parking spots as public spaces. Also known as “Tactical Urbanism”, art and design studio Rebar calls it:

The use of modest or temporary revisions to urban space to seed structural environmental change

Take something, turn it into something else for a little while, and see what happens.

In what has become known a “Park(ing) Day“, locals take control of parking spaces and turn them into small parklets. They host tea parties, hang out on sod, engage in conversation or simply enjoy outdoor work. What started as a modest two hour (the limit on the parking meter, of course) time frame eight years ago has turned into a world-wide celebration of re-claiming public space. No longer limited to San Francisco, parking day has reached across North America and through Europe, reaching as far as places such as Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

The appeal isn’t hard to understand. Parking spaces are, by and large, quite ugly. It is difficult to make any argument that claims that addition of parking spaces improves the aesthetics of the space it now occupies. With estimates ranging anywhere from three to either parking spaces for every car in the United States, it becomes easy to see that there is a rather absurd over surplus of parking spaces on any given day.

Every year on the third friday in September, parking spots get transformed into enjoyable public spaces. It’s an art project, landscape architecture, and civic engagement promotion all in one. Not only is it guerrilla, it’s open source. This makes it different from an annual festival or permanent guerrilla urban project such as Detroit’s Heidelberg Project. This is like saying “everyone else, go make your own Heidelberg Project in your city”. Such practices naturally wouldn’t be feasible on a large scale, but something as simple as a small parking space conversion can be done easily and modestly.It is designed to be taken from the initial blueprint, implemented in another place, improved upon, and shared with the world. Just like OpenSource software.

This is done with assistance not just from the locals who are organizing the event, but the support network that keeps parking day alive and moving forward. More importantly, it keeps bringing community activist together to discuss other projects, ways to make parking day better, and how they can improve the urban scene where they live.

It’s another example of how the future of urbanism will be driven by the people who live there, as a grassroots effort.

There’s a great book on Guerrilla Urbanism here that is worth checking out, but in the meantime take a look at the ways Park(ing) day is celebrated all over the world.

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John Cruz

Editor-In-Chief at The Urbanist Dispatch
John Cruz, MUP, is an urbanist, photographer, and city planner. Originally from Detroit, he now lives in Montreal.
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John Cruz

John Cruz, MUP, is an urbanist, photographer, and city planner. Originally from Detroit, he now lives in Montreal.

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