Yesterday I participated in Park(ing) Day, a coordinated nationwide commentary on how we use our public space. In dozens of cities across the country, metered parking spaces were turned into “pocket parks,” engaging pedestrians (and the occasional disgruntled motorist) in the process.
I helped organize a park outside the Whole Foods in Chelsea in conjunction with Colin and the folks at Transportation Alternatives. We laid down turf, set up a bench and flowers, and gave out free apples from the Union Square farmer’s market. It was a beautiful day in Manhattan, and the spot was well-placed for maximum pedestrian exposure. All in all, about a hundred passers-by joined us throughout the day to chat or take their lunch break, and thousands more read the sign we had posted, took pictures, and expressed their astonishment at our daft stunt. Lots of people were disappointed to find out that the park was a one-day event, while, incredibly enough, hardly anyone complained.
Before yesterday, I’d thought Park(ing) Day as a statement more than anything else: I wanted to get people thinking about how we prioritize cars over people. But once I got there, the event felt like much more of a block party than a protest. As I sat on the grass, eating local apples in the company of good friends and interesting strangers, all the commotion of the city melted away – and I realized that, despite the fact that I was literally sitting in the street, this was the most relaxed I’d been all week. For me, and for everyone else who stopped by, our little patch of turf was a very real relief from the pressures of city life.
You can’t help but wonder: if one 8-by-12 foot impromptu park can make that much difference in the street life of a neighborhood, how would it feel if the whole street was lined with green space… or if the cars, both parked and moving, were banished altogether? Just a thought.