It’s Park(ing) Day! Come sit down!

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

“Hey, would you like to come sit in the Park?”

“Excuse me?!”, I responded, “What is this?”

I stared, completely baffled at the guy sitting on a park bench surrounded by green grass. It was not that the question itself that was odd, the cause of my bewilderment was in the “park.” I was in Mid-town Manhattan, right across from MoMA in a traffic-cone-demarcated parking space in the street. And while I was perplexed, the offer was greatly appreciated since I had been desperately looking for a place to sit that hot September day as I killed time after a job interview before meeting up with a friend.

“It’s Park(ing) Day! Come sit down!”

So I did. I pulled off my sandals and sat in the cool grass in a “park-ing” spot. I ended up sitting there for hours, watching and observing the many people walking down this busy New York street during lunch rush. Many stopped in their tracks to ask, “What’s going on?”, “What is this?”, and to say “Err..yeah…Happy Park(ing) Day to you too, ah…right”.

In those few hours I learned that Park(ing) Day started in 2005 in San Francisco when one metered parking space was converted into the first pocket park (much like the one I found in 2007), the space covered with grass, a lone park bench and a tree. The idea was to create awareness of ways the public could use the space cars and trucks take up in a city where green space is lacking. In 2005, the first pocket park was created by the design firm, Rebar, a photo was snapped, that photo went viral on the Internet, and a global movement was created. Quick side note: In 2009, Manhattan closed off Broadway around Times Square to traffic and opened it up for the public to walk the once busy streets or sit and have lunch on the cafe tables. It is my personal theory that Park(ing) Day may have influenced this decision.

With each year, more and more parks are converted into pocket parks inspiring people to not only take a little time to enjoy some public green space, but also be creative. Pocket parks have progressed into pocket smoothie bars (complete with a bicycle powered blender), pocket yoga studio, pocket coffee house, pocket art installation, pocket you-get-the-picture. In 2007, when I found my park in front of MoMA, there were 200 parks created in 50 cities in 9 countries on 4 continents. And Park(ing) Day’s popularity has climbed each year. In 2010, I volunteered to spend the whole day in a parking space in Baltimore to wish everyone a very happy Park(ing) Day and raise awareness to the importance of public green urban spaces. That year there were 800 parks worldwide in 183 cities, 30 countries on 6 continents. Last year those numbers grew to 975 parks in 35 countries!

Park(ing) Day 2012 will be held on Friday, September 21. I will again be volunteering in a parking space, this time in Phoenix, starting at 6 am and wrapping up at about 10 am, so that I do not fry like a crispy critter (one of my mother’s favorite sayings). I hope you’ll join the movement! Checkout parkingday.org to find out where you can par-take in the nearest celebration of Park(ing) Day. Better yet, grab some friends and make it a tour!

Park(ing) Day NYC 2008

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