Third annual Park(ing) Day turns downtown spots into recreational areas

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Some toddlers play street-side Friday as part of Wilmington Downtown, Inc.'s third annual Park(ing) Day. Photos by Hilary Snow.
Some toddlers play street-side Friday as part of Wilmington Downtown, Inc.’s third annual Park(ing) Day. Photos by Hilary Snow.

Some parking spaces in downtown Wilmington underwent a temporary transformation Friday.

The concrete was covered with bright green artificial grass rugs and vibrant tarps. The stark white lines were bordered with tall shrubs and trees, and even a few hay bales.

And absolutely no cars were allowed.

Instead, children blew bubbles and made art projects. Yoga enthusiasts struck a few poses. Passers-by learned about community gardens and witnessed a wind turbine in action.

The makeover was courtesy of Wilmington Downtown, Inc.’s (WDI’s) third annual Park(ing) Day — an event to raise awareness about public outdoor space in urban areas. WDI is aimed at promoting the economic growth and development of downtown Wilmington.

This is the first year WDI partnered with local businesses and organizations to expand Park(ing) Day from one occupied space to four — each with a unique theme.

“We wanted to kick it up a notch and show people what is possible,” Michelle Howe with WDI said.

On Market Street, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington set up near Kilwins to help call attention to the benefit of a downtown park.

“This is in support of an area for kids to play,” Howe said. “Downtown has such a bad reputation as being just a place for drinking. There are already so many activities for families down here. A park would just increase the quality of life downtown and encourage families to come down here.”

Around the corner and a couple of blocks away on Market Street, fitness instructors gave free lessons in yoga, Pilates and circuit training to highlight the need for a designated place for outdoor recreation.

Farther down the busy thoroughfare, Feast Down East turned its space into a mini-farm and informational booth devoted to bringing a community garden to the city’s hub. The nonprofit group seeks to build a strong food system in both urban and rural areas and, among other initiatives, helps small-scale, limited-resource farmers connect with local markets.

“We are definitely in support of more green space, especially if it is a community garden,” Melissa Rogan of Feast Downeast said. “Urban areas are often actually food deserts where there is not a lot of access to grocery stores. So, downtown residents, if they don’t have transportation, are sort of at a loss for fresh produce. Community gardens give them the opportunity to grow their own food and share in the community.”

A wind turbine was one of many technologies students with Cape Fear Community College's Sustainable Energy program showcased in their parking space.
A wind turbine was one of many technologies students with Cape Fear Community College’s sustainable energy program showcased in their parking space.

And adjacent to Cape Fear Community College, students from the school’s sustainable energy program showcased their wind turbine, rain water harvesting system, solar panels and native plants to deliver a message–no matter what form a public area downtown might take, make sure it is viable, renewable and self-sufficient.

“Park(ing) Day is about promoting green space, and you can always incorporate sustainability technologies into green spaces. This is also about showing people sustainability technologies–what they are and how they can adopt them in the home and public sectors. It’s all about visibility,” student Jessica Wilson said.

Rogan agreed.

“It definitely gets looks,” she said of Feast Down East’s space. “It piques people’s interest to be walking down the sidewalk and see a parking spot full of hay bales.”

As residents and tourists stopped at the four spaces, they were asked to fill out a survey from WDI about what types of open areas they would prefer to see eventually crop up in downtown Wilmington.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.