Four L.A. Plans For Park(ing) Day

What are you doing for Park(ing) Day? City / Culture talks to Los Angeles activists about their plans and the significance of the day, which transforms parking spaces into mini-parks and social spaces.

Park(ing) Day in Los Angeles, 2008. Kate McCarthy via Flickr

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Today, September 17, 2010, is Constitution Day.

With that in mind, this column offers its apologies to those of you expecting to read this morning part two of the City / Culture conversation with artist Linda Pollack, creator of the My Daily Constitution project.

That conversation will continue instead next Friday. (Part one of the conversation is here.) Why the delay?

Because, today is also… Park(ing) Day.

Next American City readers are likely to be familiar with the annual, multi-city happening, but in case not, then here’s a quick summary:

On Park(ing) Day, individuals and organizations create and help populate temporary public spaces – parks – that are the size of a single vehicle parking space. These presence of these parks challenge the established car-first order in many urban settings. Authorities in some locales embrace the happening; in other burghs, not so much.

Park(ing) Day has famously – and rapidly – evolved from a quick project done in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art, design, and activist group. From those humble origins as a once-space park created for two hours in one of the America’s most liberal cities, Park(ing) Day spread last year to 140 cities around the globe, according to the event’s national website.

Now, the annual happening gets massive and mostly either curious or fawning media coverage – a front page Los Angeles Times article two years ago, for instance. covered the phenomenon like this in 2008, and like this in 2009.

Park(ing) Day’s parks are celebrations, but they are implicit – or explicit – protests, often simultaneously playful and subversive, like Zippy the Pinhead. Taken as a whole, the parks are green space activist’s version of the Rose Bowl Parade, sans perhaps all the movement, the marching bands, and, most likely, the Jack in the Box participation.

Park(ing) Day also serves as an example of Open Source art, and Open Source activism, in the manner of writer Bill McKibben’s The parks also pay their civic freight – participants are urged to feed their park’s meters and otherwise respect posted parking rules and regulations.

The City / Culture columnist has a minor history with the happening. Three years ago, he helped host the Park(ing) Day L.A. organizers at a planning session, and subsequently held a Farmlab Public Salon as part of the Day. That panel included CLUI’s Erik Knutzen, architect Ali Jeevanjee, and UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, the urban planning “rock star of parking.

Two years ago, the City / Culture columnist participated in Farmlab’s Park(ing) Day piece by writing the swords-to-ploughshares prose (check the bottom of the page) that accompanied the mobile palm tree-in-a-planter that group placed in a curbside spot. This year, City / Culture is just looking forward to seeing what everyone else is up to. Leading up to the big day, we asked a couple of veteran L.A.-based participants what they’re planning on doing this year, and also, why Park(ing) Day is important to them, and to their city? Below are their respective replies:

Roadblock, member, Midnight Ridazz:

What are you planning?

I am planning to ride from park to park as I’ve done before. It’s a lot of fun to see what people have done with their space, hang out, and soak up some sun.

Why is Park(ing) Day Important?

Because I believe that the streets, the common property of ALL citizens and not just car drivers, should be used more often for traveling, events and gatherings that don’t involve driving. It’s also an important reminder to the people of this concrete city that we don’t have enough space to get out and play, run, do what ancient peoples did, or just basically enjoy our lives. Imagine for just a minute that people everywhere abandoned their cars. Imagine a Southern California with less hot asphalt and more people-friendly spaces. Think of all of the space that has been gobbled up by parking lots in front of Costco and Wal-Mart and shopping malls across the Southland, and re-imagine that space as parks with places for kids to get some much-needed exercise.

Valerie Watson, a designer and planner, and the At-Large Director of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council.

What are you planning?

We at the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council are planning to celebrate two things with Park(ing) Day this year: One, to showcase future and planned parks in our neighborhood that are examples of successfully repurposing underutilized land, such as the surface parking lot that will hold the Spring Street Park in 2012, through community partnerships with City officials and the private sector. And, two, to provide neighbors with a window into what the future holds not just for this site on Spring Street, but for what’s needed all across Downtown L.A. – safe, accessible, public open space that offers green grass and social opportunities, along with respite from the urban condition. A place where you can ‘put your feet in the grass.’

Throughout the day in our Park(ing) Spot, Bolt Barbers, a business located two doors down from the future park, will bring out a vintage 1890s barber chair and give complimentary haircuts. And we will have grass, shade, and information waiting for visitors and passersby. We’re asking folks to bring their own funky lawn chairs, sun hats, books – anything they would bring to the future park when it opens.

Why is Park(ing) Day Important?

A lot has already been said by others about the lack of public open space in Los Angeles. We’re acutely aware of that in Downtown L.A., with its high concentration of residential units, businesses, and day/nighttime visitors in a part of town that has traditionally seen underinvestment in public infrastructure, such as parks, until just recently.

Park(ing) Day is an aspirational, inspirational, and catalytic for Downtown. Many of the ideas we’re showcasing on Friday – i.e. need for green over hardscape – were issues identified in the recent planning of several future, under construction and built parks Downtown, such as the Civic Park, LAPD Headquarters Park, Spring Street Park, and the grassroots 9th & Hill Park effort.

Park(ing) Day is an opportunity to demonstrate what we need and want, in an 8’x20’ incubator metered parking space, and in sharp contrast to the reality of the existing surface parking lot behind it. And Park(ing) day spots all over LA will be giving the same general message: More parks, less parking! For me it goes beyond just saying we need parks to a more nuanced argument. It’s about standing up to challenge our status quo use of the public realm – demanding that we shift the balance away from the private auto and achieve more parity between the car, the pedestrian, the cyclist, and the transit rider. It’s also a way for me to talk about urban design issues like this collaboratively with those who might not otherwise engage in this dialogue, and in a visual way – an easily digestible snippet of this argument in which most folks can see some merit.

There’s something really empowering about being an activist for a day, parking your booty down in a parking space – on the street! It’s almost scandalous! Think paddling down the L.A. River ( a kayak – an act seen as ludicrous at the time that was transformative in how we see the L.A. River. Park(ing) Day is a yearly chance to frame the conversation with a simple act of cheeky defiance.

Autumn Rooney, co-founder, Echo Park Time Bank

What are you planning?

The Echo Park Time Bank Park will be at Echo Park Avenue and Delta across from Magic Gas [a service station] and Chango [a coffeehouse] from 10AM-7PM. We will be PARK in front of a huge lot occupied by half-built condos and we would love to see that land become a public park. Time Bank members, Aaron Kuehn and Orchid Velasquez, will be offering ‘PARK’ – the ‘steepest’ park ever! Assorted aromatic blends of wild flora for you to experience, just add water and your own cup. We’ll also have live music.

Why is Park(ing) Day Important?

Because it’s a wonderful way to point out the absurdity of car culture and to remind everyone how fun it is to get out of their cars and interact with each other for a while. I have spent the last two years getting to know wonderful people in my neighborhood through the Time Bank. I’ve seen first-hand how amazing things can happen when people get together and share ideas, experiences and creativity. Revolutions take root, music is made, needs get met and friendships are built. Communities need public space in order to make that magic happen. It’s the pot that holds the gumbo of civic life. Los Angeles is a city designed for isolation, but as the economy worsens, we will have to reduce our speed, pull over and help each other out.

Prioritizing cars over people creates a very unhealthy society. Six percent of children in Los Angeles County have asthma and every ten seconds someone is involved in an auto accident. I worry about my three-year-old goddaughter growing up in a traffic-filled world. I heard someone say that society should move at the pace of its slowest citizens. That makes sense to me because a toddler can’t go sixty-miles-per-hour, and she shouldn’t have to. For me, Park(ing) Day represents a future for Los Angeles that provides a safe and healthy quality of life for everyone.

Paolo Davanzo, Founder and Executive Director, Echo Park Film Center

What are you planning?

In the past we have put up a large tent and screened films on the street: a little tiny cinema. This year we will be screening the 80’s classic bicycle film Breaking Away at the Echo Park Lake encouraging folks to get out of their cars and celebrate our two-wheeled friend.

Why is Park(ing) Day Important?

Park(ing) Day is little trickle of community activism that hopes to change the way we look at our city and transportation. If only for a day, it is exciting to see how folks reinterpret the street and use a conventional parking space as a park, living room, bowling alley, or cinema. Working as a volunteer at the Echo Park Film Center, the public and performative use of the traditional parking space is the most exciting for us.

Read past City / Culture columns here
Email the columnist at lathinktank [at] gmail [dot] org.

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