When the first Park(ing) Day was launched by Rebar in 2005, right here in San Francisco, it was on the vanguard of street space reclamation. Four years later, it’s undoubtedly part of a larger trend that includes such fine company as Sunday Streets, Pavement to Parks plazas, and the first steps towards a car-less Market Street. Park(ing) Day is now officially an international phenomenon, but its rapid growth could be seen just as easily by touring sites across the city today.
From bike parking to outdoor café seating to volunteer recruitment, Park(ing) Day spots were used for an impressive array of purposes today, some planned well in advance, others conceived of just this morning.
Fabrizio Laudati, who owns Pantarei Restaurant in North Beach, saw neighboring Caffe Greco setting up al fresco seating in the parking spot out front, and quickly claimed several parking spaces of his own for customer seating. The result was impressively elegant, all things considered, but Laudati said it would be even better if it were permanent.
"If it wasn’t temporary, we could make it even prettier," said Laudati, who didn’t flinch at the loss of a few parking spots. "Losing three spots is worth it since you have space for so many more customers to sit."
The Caffe Greco setup was done in partnership with SPUR and the Great Streets Project to demonstrate flexible parking. "We really wanted to demonstrate the idea of flexible parking and show that the city could be capable of letting businesses have Park(ing) Day every day, and allow businesses to do what they want with the parking space in front of their businesses," said the Great Streets Project’s Erin Rice.
"If they want to," said Rice, businesses can "have an outdoor café and extend their restaurant, or have bike parking and allow more multi-modal transit in front of their business. This is something the city has been talking about and a lot of businesses are really excited about."
It appears merchants loved the concept so much, in fact, that the Great Streets Project announced late Friday that PARK(ing) Day would continue through the weekend on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Kit Hodge, the GSP’s director, is encouraging San Franciscans to head there and check out the vibrant spaces.
Rice helped organize the Park(ing) Day park in front of the SPUR Urban Center, along with SPUR’s Dasha Mikic and Jordan Salinger, which was complete with shaded seating, a DJ and a cellist. "At SPUR, we are not using it like a merchant would and having lectures out there," said Mikic, "but we are using it as an extension of our building to educate the public about smart growth in San Francisco, about re-imagining the city, and about reusing space."
At Caffe Roma, the other flexible parking demonstration spot, patrons enjoyed the extra space, which is badly needed in a neighborhood overflowing with people but underserved by sidewalk space. Still, an employee said, several residents had complained about the loss of a single parking space. A customer in line scoffed at that notion, but it seems some grumbling from malcontent drivers is an unavoidable fact of life for projects that begin to reclaim space for people.
Parking was on the minds of several other businesses today, including Bi Rite Market and Four Barrel Coffee, but they weren’t complaining about the loss of it. In fact, they gained dozens of extra spaces – for bicycles – thanks to SFBC flexible parking stations, a demonstration of on-street bike parking that will be implemented once the bike injunction is lifted. In front of Four Barrel, those spaces were filled to capacity.
"For us, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is not doing a temporary, one-day exhibition, but we’re demonstrating what will be happening in the near future," explained the SFBC’s Marc Caswell. The SFBC is setting a goal of 30 on-street bike parking stations in the city by the end of 2010, he said. "We are working with about 15 different businesses that have already wanted to install these bike parking spaces in order to accommodate 16 customers instead of one car-driving customer."
Not all the temporary parks were focused on public space reclamation, of course. At the temporary Working Bee Park, Amber Hasselbring was recruiting volunteers to work on the Mission Greenbelt Project, which is applying for a city challenge grant. "The Mission Greenbelt Project has a goal to build sidewalk gardens from Dolores Park all the way winding through the Mission all the way down to Franklin Square Park," Hasselbring said. "So, we’re hoping to solicit more property owners who want to be part of this grant proposal."
"As soon as you put the plants out," Hasselbring said," butterflies and other creatures "can sense that they’re here, especially the proximity to [parks] really helps."
In addition to bikes and butterflies, some parks were attracting kids.
The San Francisco Planning Department’s Abby Keifer explained their park to a child entranced by the color boxes and turf that had sprung up on the street. "Those boxes have to stay down, because those are development constraints. Yellow means houses, red means offices and stores, blue means schools and museums, and purple means industrial. So you’ll pick up some of the boxes and you’ll see things like, ‘There’s a school.’ So, the school has to go there then. Or you’ll see things like a steep slope, so you have to be careful about what goes on the steep slope. But otherwise, do whatever you want."
Kiefer said the Planning Department designed the park as "an impetus for us as a department to get together and work on a project collaboratively that would interact with the public in a pretty non-traditional way." Planners got to meet and discuss complex land use issues in a more playful environment than the usual public hearings and meetings.
The diversity of Park(ing) Day parks seemed to indicate a broad appeal and usefulness of repurposing automotive space. "The fact that all of these things are so quick to take hold … is a really hopeful sign that we’re ready to rethink our space and how we interact with it," said Livable City’s Cheryl Brinkman, while setting up at the Friends of Sunday Street temporary park on Valencia.
"Parking Day, Sunday Streets, the trials on car-free or car-less Market, and Pavement to Parks are all a growing trend to take back our streets and repurpose our space to accommodate people as well as cars," said Brinkman. "This is just another really great example, the fact that it started three or four years ago as a literally grass-roots effort with people setting sod in a parking spot, [and now] to an international movement."