Locals pay parking meters and then use the space to set up parklets.
Locals pay parking meters and then use the space to set up parklets.
Stacey Champion

Phoenix Residents Take Over the Streets on PARK(ing) Day

The room that a car takes up in a parking space doesn’t seem to be that big. But, every year on PARK(ing) Day, people in Phoenix find something creative to do with that small space.

The day is designed to draw attention to the use of public spaces and how they could be repurposed to better serve the community. Participants pay a parking meter in the city and then set up a mini park. It’s a way to “reimagine how public space could be created and used if it were built for people before cars,” says Stacey Champion, who runs the event and has been with it since it first started in Phoenix.

It originally started in San Francisco in 2005 by a design group called Rebar and has since expanded to be a worldwide event.

Essentially, participants are creating temporary parklets, which help fill what Champion sees as missed opportunities with small spaces. A parklet is an extension of the sidewalk that usually fills a parking space and provides a small bit of nature, with trees or grass, and oftentimes a place to rest.

According to Champion, there is only one parklet in downtown Phoenix, outside of Matt’s Big Breakfast in the Roosevelt Arts District. To her, the event is bittersweet because she feels the city of Phoenix hasn't done much with their parklet program.

“I’ve always loved the event because it’s really joyful and fun,” Champion says. “It’s a way to engage people and get them to think about things a little bit differently. I’m also, in the same breath, frustrated about the lack of action on the city’s part in getting small nature spaces woven into our concrete jungle.”

She’s also frustrated with the city for other reasons besides the parklet program.

There's “a lack of regard for sustainability,” Champion laments. “Why not take that parklet program and bring it into some of the under-served communities where urban heat island is absolutely affecting people more?”

Champion believes that combining art and activism, which this event does, is important and provides a more interesting way of storytelling.

People get very creative with their parklets and themes have ranged from Willy Wonka to zombies.
People get very creative with their parklets and themes have ranged from Willy Wonka to zombies.
Stacey Champion

Over the years, people have gotten really creative with the designs of their parklets. Champion’s favorite is a zombie bistro-themed park in which participants dressed up and followed people on the sidewalk. Other ones have included opera-singing, yoga, and Willy Wonka.

However, Champion has ensured that this is a space for community awareness and not advertising.

“Every year, I have to battle back against people who want to set up informational tables and bring their trade show banners," she says. "It is definitely not a day or place for that."

To her, it’s a day to connect with people and nature in a way that oftentimes can be difficult.

“People get very busy; especially in the city, people don’t talk to each other as much,” Champion says. “I think those small places that have some connection to nature, whether it’s flowers or a tree, or whatever it is, those small, intimate spaces also help people connect on a human level.”

PARK(ing) Day. Friday, September 21, Washington Street between First and Second Avenue, Phoenix; facebook.com/ParkingDayPHX.

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