On the morning of Friday, September 18th, a group of Harvard Graduate School of Design Urban Planning and Design students blocked cars from using a parallel parking space on a busy Cambridge street by creating a temporary park within its lines. Potted plants, hammocks, couches, and a dozen people occupied the asphalt normally reserved for SUVs and sedans. This transformation of public space was part of PARK(ing) Day, a national event dedicated to raising awareness about the lack of open space in cities.
PARK(ing) Day started in San Francisco nine years ago when Rebar, an art and design studio, pioneered the idea of temporarily turning a parking space into a park in order to explore the values and possible uses of public space. Allison Green (MUP ’15), who coordinated the participation of UPD students in PARK(ing) Day through the Harvard Urban Planning Organization (HUPO), believes that the activity sparks innovation. Said Green, “It’s all about getting people together! I think that whenever you give people public space, they do really interesting things.”
The centerpiece of the UPD parklet was the use of bales of hay as both seating and a barrier between people and automobiles. Students added additional color and texture to the parking space by drawing on the asphalt with chalk. A hammock was strung up between signposts, and students relished an unseasonably warm day.
Throughout the day, passersby occasionally stopped to ask UPD students about the purpose of their parklet. Ethan Lassiter (MUP ’15) feels that those interactions are the key part of the day. Said Lassiter, “It’s a [valuable chance] to talk about what else could occupy the parking spaces.” David Henning (MUP ’15) agreed with this perspective. Said Henning,”[PARK(ing) Day] is a great chance to use the space as a front porch and [solicit the opinions] of people you wouldn’t normally meet.”
While listening to these diverse voices was a valuable experience for the UPD students, a greater challenge lies ahead: actually realizing visions for enhancing public space through their work at the GSD and beyond.