An average parking space in the city of Philadelphia is usually about 8.5’ wide and about 18’ long, depending on the neighborhood. While it sometimes seems impossible to parallel park an average car in one of those spaces, it takes a truly creative mind to fit something even more unfathomable into those dimensions — a park. Taking part in the international event known as Park(ing) Day, over 50 such 8.5’x18’ pop-up micro-parks appeared all across Philadelphia in September 2012. This year, on Friday, Sept. 20, the City will participate in the event for the sixth year, with more than 30 mini-parks registered and more to come.
Park(ing) Day is a one-day interactive community development event that aims to call attention to the need for more urban open space and to spark critical conversation about how public space is used to improve quality of life. It all started in 2005 when a single metered parking space in downtown San Francisco was converted into a temporary park by design studio Rebar. Their simple parklet, in existence for only two hours (the maximum time available on the meter), featured a carpet of sod, a potted tree and a bench for the weary pedestrian.
Parklets in Philly last year featured a cardboard campsite called S’More Parks created by SMP Architects, a bike tune-up station sponsored by the Bike Coalition (http://www.bicyclecoalition.org), and a green space with tables and chairs and a small puddle to frolic in created by the Center City District near Dilworth Plaza. The space in front of Terra Hall across the street from the Bellevue featured a plot of green turf and folding tables and chairs, and a game of corn hole, all fenced in by black-eyed Susans. (See our photos of last years’ standouts here)
This year, the organization hopes to surpass the number of pop-ups it had last year, showing off even more creative ways to temporarily use public space. But as Pamela Zimmerman, a co-organizer of the event and Philadelphia-based architect, notes, all of the designs will be as much of a surprise to the organizers as they are to the public. “We don’t really know what any of the teams have planned,” she says. “That’s part of the excitement.”
To host a space, the sign-up is free, and you don’t even have to have a fully-fledged design upon submitting an application. Participants can request a particular parking space, and the organization posts a “No Parking” placard a few weeks before the big day to reserve it. (You may see some of them appearing soon.) There are a few rules to follow in the design, including ensuring that there is a barrier between the park and the traveling lanes, no “overt advertising” or parks that “look like trade show booths,” and most importantly the parklet can only exist in the parking space during times that it is legal for a car to be parked in the space. The rule of thumb is: if a car can park in it, you can put a parklet in it.
Park(ing) Day will also join forces with a fellow pop-up public space on Sept. 20 — the official Park(ing) Day after party will be held at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Pop-Up Garden at 313 S. Broad Street between Spruce and Pine.
Danielle Wayda is an editorial intern at Grid and a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College.