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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: September 7, 2014

Turn a parking space into a park: (PARK)ing Day 2014 in Portland

Some lucky, hand-picked parking spaces will have the chance to feel what it’s like to be a park – to live the public space life! – during PARK(ing) Day on Sept. 19.

Written by: Shannon Bryan
The VIA Agency Park on Congress Street boats a comfortable bench and typewriters, so you can write something amazing, and then sit and think about it. Pictured: Stephen Brownell Davis. Shannon Bryan photo

During PARK(ing) Day 2013, the VIA Agency Park on Congress Street boasted a comfortable bench and typewriters, so you could write something amazing, and then sit and think about it. Pictured: Stephen Brownell Davis. Shannon Bryan photo

A park is a place for people.

It’s a place where people can recline under a tree, tuck a backpack under their head and read (or pretend to read while they nap). It’s a place where people can catch up with each other over sandwiches and coleslaw and a diverse selection of bagged chips spread out on a blanket or bench. In a park, people can toss a Frisbee to the dog, play guitar for spare change, or simply watch other people go by. It’s a place where a believer can preach to the trees and a family can enjoy the time-honored sport of Wiffle Ball. Parks are wonderfully adaptable like that.

Parking spaces, on the other hand, aren’t quite as accommodating.

You can park your car in one…and that’s about it. They certainly aren’t places where people want to hang out (no offense, parking spaces. We know you’re just doing what you were told).

But on Friday, September 19, some of those spaces will have the chance to feel what it’s like to be a park – to live the public space life! – during PARK(ing) Day in Portland.

PARK(ing) Day is a worldwide event where anyone (artists, organizations, individuals or businesses) can turn a parking spot into a mini public park, at least for the day. The annual event, started in San Francisco in 2005, takes place on the third Friday of September in hundreds of cities around the world, and this will be the third year PARK(ing) Day will take to the spaces of Portland.

Photos from PARK(ing) Day 2013

“The definition of a park is pretty loose,” said Sarah Schindler, Portland (PARK)ing Day organizer and associate professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law. “Some people create parks with fake grass, benches and trees or art installations. Different organizations have turned them into different things.”

What kind of public space you create is up to you. Maybe there’s a hammock or desk chair. Maybe there’s a hopscotch course or a carafe of coffee. Maybe it’s just you on a rug offering free conversation to anyone who sits down.

“I think part of it is just a cool whimsical experience, almost like public art performance pieces,” said Schindler. “If people interact with it, that has value in and of itself.”

Spaces can be reserved for the day for $15 through the city of Portland (the city itself is reserving a space in front of Speckled Ax on Congress Street and putting a bike corral where a car usually sits).

But there’s a larger point to consider, too. Schindler hopes PARK(ing) Day makes people think about how much of our ostensibly public space is dedicated to cars – for driving and for storage – and helps to raise awareness of the public spaces for people that we do have. Do we need more? Is it better to have public space spread out or one or two big parks?

“There are questions we can and should be raising in Portland right now,” said Schindler.

Development in the city is booming, she said, and that development brings with it certain challenges: “What does that development to do affordability of rentals? Of existing public open space?….Similarly, we should be thinking about our bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure…it’s severely underfunded, underemphasized, as compared to cars. That’s not just in Portland, that’s all the U.S.”

Seeing small parks where cars usually go might get people thinking about parks and cars and public spaces on a bigger, city-wide scale. Heck, a nation-wide scale.

And in the meantime, those car-sized public spaces will be places for people to congregate, relax and interact around the city. It will be a winning experience for participants and passersby, not to mention the parking space itself, which typically only has the parking meter for company. What a novelty it will be to hang out with people.

PARK(ing) Day Portland is Friday, Sept. 19. Any individual, organization or business is welcome to participate. To get involved, email organizers Sarah Schindler at sschindler@maine.edu or Abby King at abby@bikemaine.org. There’s a $15 fee to reserve a parking space for the day, paid to the city of Portland, as well as a form to complete.

For more information on Portland’s PARK(ing) Day and details on reserving a spot: Portland PARK(ing) event on Facebook

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