The real meaning of Park(ing) Day

Park on Penn Originally uploaded by Payton Chung

Once again, the killjoys are looking too narrowly at a fun event. DC may have many acres of park space, but the vast majority of it is inaccessible to its residents on a daily basis — cut off from the city by highways, hillsides, rivers, and too often security fences. Unlike metered parking spaces, those park spaces aren’t located right at the heart of the neighborhoods where we work, shop, and live.

More broadly, Streetsblog DC calls Park(ing) Day a “global demonstration about all the ways we can use curbside space besides automobile storage.” It’s a chance to have a thoughtful dialogue about what else we could use curbside space for, and to get a chance to see just how huge cars are relative to the other elements of our urban environment. We don’t often get a chance to see just how much other stuff can fit into the space occupied by one car — a dozen bikes? a picnic table? a kindergarten class? a City Council?

San Francisco has made Park(ing) Day permanent in many locations throughout the city by allowing businesses (and residents!) to rent curbside spaces annually. Many of them have become elegant sidewalk cafes, some house bike parking, one has a curious dinosaur themed garden. All of them offer something rewarding and engaging to walk past, and many offer the city’s economy more of a boost than yet another parked car would.

It’s not as if street parking has always had the Divine Right of Kings, either. Way back in 1924, in a paper entitled Suggestions for Relief of Street Congestion, a Chicago engineer supported banning curbside parking entirely: “It seems unreasonable that a comparatively few people can utilize the most valuable street space in our cities, practically at will, for their own pleasure and convenience and to the serious inconvenience of thousands of their fellow citizens.” (Norton, Peter. 2008. Fighting Traffic. Cambridge: MIT. p. 141.)

[posted to GGW]