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Parking it in Midtown

12:15 PM EDT on September 21, 2006

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.

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