2007-09-23 – Parks on a Lark – NY Times

September 23, 2007
Urban Studies | Park(ing)
Parks on a Lark



JUSTINE KAYUMBA, 16, will never look at parking the same way again — not after Friday, when the Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York, of which she’s a member, commandeered a prime spot on First Avenue and First Street. The group promptly installed turf, trees and a plastic deer, then spent the afternoon giving away smoothies made with a bicycle-powered blender.

“Cars are taking up too much space,” said Justine, whose family uses only public transportation. “I don’t approve of so much parking.”

Justine was one of thousands of people worldwide celebrating Park(ing) Day, in which parking spots were transformed into tiny, ephemeral parks, to bring attention to the question of why so much publicly owned land is dedicated to accommodating privately owned cars.

Since the event was dreamed up two years ago by the San Francisco artists’ cooperative Rebar, it has expanded to more than 50 cities. This year New York was host to two dozen mini-parks, scattered around the five boroughs, all offering some combination of rest and play, in the form of grass, shade, benches and games.

A brass band took over a spot in Times Square. Clowns frolicked in a spot in the Village. A Dadaist performance-art group in Staten Island claimed one near the ferry terminal.

In addition to the charming incongruity of lush grass and lounge chairs amid the trafficky chaos of New York’s streetscape, the event, which is sponsored by the Trust for Public Land, provoked animated discussions about land use. In an online forum, a driver was so outraged by the thought of two fewer parking spaces in Park Slope that he threatened to run participants over with his car. The reactions from most passers-by were more benevolent.

A German seaman on shore leave, for example, chatted with the clowns in the Village. “It makes a good impression,” he said, “to stop people and make a party.”

The city’s Transportation Department does not know the total number of parking spaces in the city, but according to Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, 45 percent of public land in Manhattan is dedicated to moving and storing cars. On Friday, however, the city was metering happiness. As Justine’s friends fed quarters into the meter guarding their temporary wonderland, she peddled the bike blender, sporting a T-shirt that read, “Girls Gone Green.”

“There are so many ways to make the world a better place,” Justine said. “I can make a smoothie in two minutes.”