Parking it in Midtown

Today is International Park(ing) Day. Also known as a "parking squat," Park(ing) is a quasi-legal reclamation of urban street space in which a metered, curbside parking spaces are transformed into urban parkland complete with sod, benches, trees and human beings. Here is how Park(ing) Day is being celebrated this morning in Midtown Manhattan on 8th Avenue near 30th Street:

This is not New York City’s first parking space reclamation, though it is probably the most elaborate. Last fall members of Transportation Alternatives staged New York City’s first-ever parking squat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Then in May, another squat in Park Slope, filmed by NYCSR’s Clarence Eckerson, sparked a remarkably intense and angry debate throughout the blogosphere. In questioning why the vast majority of a city’s valuable and limited public space is set aside for the exclusive use of moving and storing people’s private motor vehicles, Park(ing) evokes strong reactions.

Today’s Park(ing) Day is being organized by Rebar Group, an art collective in San Francisco. Word has it that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome is even participating in one of the twenty or so squats being set up around the Bay Area today.

Rebar’s first Park(ing) event last year inspired a group in the Sicilian town of Trapani to transform a strip of curbside asphalt into that city’s first and only public lawn. Recently, artist Michael Rakowitz used a car-shaped tent to create his very own affordable housing program in Vienna, Austria. In July 2003 this group in Oxford, England staged the grand daddy of all parking squats, putting an end to speeding in their neighborhood by installing a fully-furnished living room in the middle of their street. One outraged motorist crashed into the furniture. Let’s hope today’s Park(ing) violence is confined to the comments section of Curbed and Gothamist.

  • Bobby Jones

    Let’s not forget that legally (and technically), the limit for most metered parking spaces is one hour, regardless of how many quarters you feed the meter.

    But how do you ticket a potted plant? Some kind of obstruction / loitering charge?

    -Bobby

  • I love this stuff. I wonder if it would be feasible to do this here in the Upper East Side… Check into the law, find a day off, and set up shop for the day. Hmm…

  • Sean

    What do you do with the ticket? Staple the ticket to a leaf or stuff it in the pot? Can you tow a potted plant? How? What about a boot?

    The great thing about Park(ing) is how it treats a very serious topic in such a light- and big-hearted fashion. I just cannot stop smiling looking at the various pictures.

    It’s not entirely coincidental. Streets have become (always have been?) grim, gray (metaphorically) spaces. Grass, benches, potted plants are happy things. Of course a parking squat should bring a smile.

  • and yet the parking squat seems to make people very ANGRY.

  • Sean

    Ya know, I was going to put in an aside about the anger.

    I wish I could understand or explain it, beyond the obvious statement that it illustrates people’s assumptions about the permanance of land allocation to streets and the primacy of the right to drive on streets.

    Not very satisfy on any level.

  • james

    I love it. This city needs a lot more stuff like this.

  • aber

    You guys are damn hippies. If you want parks land and sod move to the suburbs.

  • Matthew

    Right on aber. I was just thinking how satisfying it is to label anything creative or different “hippie.” It makes one feel damn status quo, non?

  • hey aber-
    last time i checked there are alot more cars and paved roads in suburbs these days…
    you are going to be shocked when uur abused landbase stops supporting your lifestyle
    then you are going to wish that every square inch of the earth had not be paved over

  • Re: Anger. It’s elementary. If you’ve been getting something valuable for (practically) free, and someone starts to question that, you get angry.

  • Jacob

    #7, if you want free and ample parking and streets designed for car traffic, I believe that it is you who should move to the suburbs. New York City’s streets existed hundreds of years before the car, as a public space for the movement of people and goods. It is a very recent idea that streets should give priority to automobiles. Also, there is no logical reason why cities can’t have parkland. If you want proof, look no further than Central Park, Bryant Park, and numerous Greenstreets. Are you advocating the elimination of these? Finally, if you don’t like the diversity of people and ideas (including “hippies”) that comprise this great city, then, again, you should probably move to a suburb where you will only encounter people who are exactly like you. Good day.

  • Car-Free NYer

    As a car-free NYer, I love this.

    But, be prepared, invariably someone will demand to know “Where am I supposed to park my car?” As if that’s OUR problem.

  • someguy

    I find that questioning the reasonability, ethicality (environmental, equitable, etc) or morality of the average driver’s right to drive gets a very similar response as questioning the reasonability, ethicality or morality of the average meat overeater’s right to eat vast quantities of industrially produced meat. It gets a very emotional, gut reaction. I think it’s the resonation of a deep-seated sense of guilt that we as humans are very capable of repressing until provoked. And once provoked to confront our questionable conduct, we get very defensive and emotional because nobody likes to admit their doing something stupid.

  • i think you nailed it, someguy. talking with some friends about "inconvenient truth" recently, i’m finding that i know a number of otherwise smart, conscious, educated americans who are angry at al gore for, what i believe to be, the same reason you outline above. being confronted with these difficult issues makes people feel guilty. it makes people feel attacked — even if you are confronting them simply by sitting on a grassy patch in the middle of the street with a dopey smile on your face, like the guy in the photo. (just kidding, graham!)

  • As part of CarFreeDay celebrations tomorrow, there is a concerted push in Toronto to have “Parking Parties” such as this all up and down an entire street (Queen St. W.).

    For details on this “unofficial” carfreeday event, as well as Toronto’s CarFree Parade, see streetsareforpeople.org.

  • Re: 12, there are plenty of parking garages where you can pay thru the nose to park right around the corner from there.

  • d

    or if you can’t find a parking spot on the street, just drive your car around central park for a while. i hear that’s open to cars most of the time.

  • clarence

    Hey all,

    I was out in SF today relishing in all of REBAR’s Park(ing) Day Fun.

    Photos from today in San Francisco – http://homepage.mac.com/trorb/PhotoAlbum179.html

    And a video to come shortly! It was awesome! At least 15 spots temporarily re-claimed!

  • mike

    Wow, those folks in SF really know how to do it up!

  • Sproule

    While calmly bike commuting recently on an Upper West Side Avenue I got an angry comment and a long honk from a driver: “STREET ARE FOR CARS!” Although I’ve often stooped to screaming back and delivering a long bird, many years of these interactions teaches that disengagement or killing with kindness and a wave prevails as the most sensible response. You can’t convince drivers of anything while they’re in their cars. I’m all for park(ing)…power to the hippies.

  • beautiful san fran pics. love the cargo bike.

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