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Happy PARK(ing) Day!

Cars sure are important. I mean, we design our towns and cities—heck, our whole civilization—around their ubiquitous presence. We construct massive parking structures where cars live for temporary periods, have a whole dining subculture based on the automobile, and dot the sides of our city streets with parking spaces deemed so valuable as to demand a fee for their use.

That’s why what I saw when I strolled into work today was so refreshing.

Outside the front door of Earthjustice’s office in downtown Oakland, Calif., a bucolic camp site scene was occupying a space next to the curb and between two white lines painted on the street where I would normally spy a pickup truck or late-model sedan. There was a collection of tree stumps to sit down on, there were board games resting on a small table, and there was an actual campfire complete with s’more-preparation paraphernalia.

Happy PARK(ing) Day!

Today is the 7th annual PARK(ing) Day, an international event encouraging people to turn metered parking spaces into temporary public parks. As the PARK(ing) Day website explains:

The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals … creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world. The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!

The converted space in front of our offices was the handy work of the folks at PGA Design, a landscape architecture firm with offices right next door to Earthjustice. This is the fourth year that PGA Design participated in the event.

“This year our theme is S’more Park. Imagine you’re up at Yosemite National Park. We have all our camping equipment out and our camp lantern and our scrabble game,” said Chris Pattillo, president of PGA Design. “You can come crawl into our sleeping bag if you want to have a mid-day nap, and we’re making s’mores today, and everyone is welcome to come by and hang out with us.”

Oakland resident Ty Bell stopped to take a look at the converted parking space and was intrigued and pleased by the idea.

“I grew up on a farm in Kentucky,” explained Bell. “I remember when all we had was what I see in front of us: dirt, a fire, a couple of chairs, and a table for the family to gather around—and that was all we needed. When you boil it down today and you take the Mercedes out of the driveway and you push the big McMansion back, that’s all you really need: a place to sit around the warm, glow of a fire with love for each other. And if you have that, you have everything.”

Come Monday, a shiny new Prius or a work truck filled with lumber will be occupying the same parking spot where today folks from the neighborhood gathered to talk, share a laugh, and eat melted marshmallows and chocolate on graham crackers. But for at least one day a year, we get a chance to experience our urban environment in a wholly different manner. Rather than serving as the breeding ground for road rage and exhaust fumes, the parking space deftly converted into a life-sized, interactive camping diorama bred conviviality, conversation and community.

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