Culture

Park(ing) Day, Now Brought to You By Ikea

Look at all those happy Ikea shoppers DIY urbanists. Credit: Ikea

Poäng chair? Check. Hampen rug? Check. Lingonberry juice? Check. Quarters to feed the meter? Check.

The trademark trappings of the Ikea nesting instinct find themselves transported to the street in the Swedish furniture and design behemoth’s 2014 catalogue. More specifically, page 30 — and an accompanying YouTube video — showcases neon green easy chairs and a matching plush, green-as-grass rug against a cobblestone backdrop. The display is an obvious iteration of Park(ing) Day, an international movement to temporarily take over parking spaces and repurpose them as public spaces.

Park(ing) Day began in 2005 as a guerrilla art project by Rebar Art + Design of San Francisco, and quickly went viral. In 2011, there were 975 parks in 162 cities spread across 35 countries on six continents. Since its inception, the movement has largely been grassroots and open source, with Rebar publishing a how-to manual for free online rather than taking commissions to create more of the infectiously cute mini-parks.

But attempts to make Park(ing) Day more official also began in its birthplace by the Bay. The concept proved so popular that in 2010, the San Francisco Planning Department installed a prototype “parklet,” again with Rebar’s help, to remain for several months instead of a few hours. As of January there were 38 parklets in the city, with an eventual goal of 100, and the Planning Department admits to being inundated with applications from sponsoring local businesses (and, in one case of hilarious egomania, a private citizen).

Interestingly, this isn’t Ikea’s first foray into (Park)ing. Lifestyle and fashion blog Popsugar received $1,000 from the retailer for a 2008 installation in San Francisco. John Bela, principal and co-founder at Rebar, confesses he missed that last one in his backyard, but is equivocal about Ikea’s more recent nod.

“On the one hand, it’s interesting to see a large company like that getting behind the idea of repurposing public space,” Bela says. “But we also see it as pretty strong brand promotion, which is something we try to keep the reins on because we want Park(ing) Day to remain free and open to the public.”

Ultimately, Ikea didn’t use the name “Park(ing)” in its catalogue, just the concept. And Rebar purposefully didn’t trademark its creation. As such, perhaps the sharpest way to judge an Ikea-sponsored Park(ing) Day is with design criticism.

To that end, Bela needles the corporate giant. “It does have the feel of a domestic space more so than a public space,” he says, “so it’s not a very original interpretation. It’s less about pushing the concept to be something interesting.” Still, he is charitable in his hopes about the reach of the blue-and-yellow box store.

“If anything good comes out of Ikea using the concept of Park(ing) Day,” Bela says, “maybe more people will be interested in reusing parking spaces.” We’ll raise a glass of lingonberry juice to that.

Park(ing) Day 2013 is on Friday, September 20. Register your installation here.

Gregory Scruggs writes about cities and culture, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Tags: culturesan franciscoparking daydiy urbanismrebarikeajohn belaparklets