Park(ing): Car Space as a Park

Today is "Park(ing) Day" in San Francisco, where a contest is under way to see who can come up with the most innovative park in a parking spot. The event is put on by the art group Rebar, which last year created and installed a mobile parking-spot sized park (complete with tree, bench, and Astroturf. This year there will be a bunch of these scattered around town. Amy Standen tours the entries.

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Around San Francisco today, drivers may be finding that elusive parking space a little more elusive. That's because today has been dubbed Park(ing) Day and a San Francisco arts group called Rebar is leading an effort to turn parking spots into parks.

Amy Standen went on a tour with some members of the group.

Mr. MATTHEW PASSMORE (Co-Founder, Rebar): Hi, my name's Matthew Passmore and I'm one of the founders of Rebar. And we're standing here in downtown San Francisco in a metered parking spot. John, you want to feed the meter?

(Soundbite of change)

Mr. JOHN BELA (Rebar): Twelve minutes.

Mr. PASSMORE: It looks like we have 12 minutes on our parking meter.

AMY STANDEN: John and Matt walked here. They don't have a car to park. What they do have now is 12 minutes of rent on a 6 x 20 square foot plot of San Francisco's Mission Street.

Mr. PASSMORE: We approach the metered parking space as a short-term lease and as long as you're paying the parking meter, you can rent the space for a variety of different activities. It doesn't have to be just the storage of a private vehicle.

STANDEN: With money from the Trust for Public Land, Rebar created Park(ing) Day, turning five downtown parking spots into temporary mobile parks.

Mr. PASSMORE: We're going to roll up with our team of bicyclists, unroll some sod, set down a tree, put down a couple park benches, feed the meter and open the park to the public. And we'll have signage inviting the public to put quarters in the meter if they'd like to extend the life of the park.

STANDEN: Rebar's John Bela.

Mr. BELA: Downtown San Francisco actually happens to be an area that doesn't have a whole lot of open space, but the street provides a great opportunity for that. Streets can be hybridized in terms of their function and what we're trying to do here is shift the balance a little bit from private vehicles more towards pedestrians, bicyclists and mass transit.

STANDEN: Over in the Tenderloin District around the corner from the Barbary Coast Topless Bar, Kirsten Dissinger(ph) and her friends are building their park structure, called Hanging Gardens.

Ms. KIRSTEN DISSINGER (Rebar): For the beginning of our structure we're going to have four polls kind of surrounding the parking spot. And then there are going to be wires around the poles and plants hanging from the wires. And we might bring some hula hoops for people to really get into the backyard feel.

(Soundbite of construction)

Ms. DISSINGER: We want them to come in and sit down, have a conversation with somebody else or eat their lunch. Get a little rest on their break.

STANDEN: But some people don't know what to make of these parks and that's part of Rebar's point. Park(ing) Day is about surprising people, interrupting their expectations of everyday space.

Mr. PASSMORE: I think in downtown San Francisco, as in most urban settings, there's quite a well-regulated set of social behaviors and social codes. And anytime you press up against that and allow people to step out of their normal set of codes and behaviors, they really appreciate it.

STANDEN: That may be truer for pedestrians than drivers. A quick survey of Bay Area parkers Ernest Canti(ph) and Dennis Sirky(ph) suggest that Rebar will have its work cut out for them.

Mr. ERNEST CANTI: I think parking spots are allocated for cars and motorcycles or, you know, motorized vehicles. I think that's what it's for, you know? Not just to stand around in and have fun, you know?

Mr. DENNIS SIRKY: That's certainly not what the spaces are intended for. We have parks for people.

STANDEN: Last year police and meter maids let the parks pass. Rebar hopes they'll be as lucky this year and, who knows? Maybe even change a few minds. John Bela.

Mr. BELA: Primarily the parking project is about rethinking the way that streets are used. It's about opening up opportunities for more efficient uses, more humane uses, more creative purpose in urban environments.

STANDEN: Park(ing) Day takes place today in about 15 San Francisco parking spots as well as in Cleveland, Sao Paulo, London and Glasgow.

For NPR News, this is Amy Standen in San Francisco.

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