Turning parking spaces into public parks, PARKing day hits downtown Wilmington

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Representatives from the Ability Garden and Arboretum during yesterday’s PARKing day in downtown Wilmington. Photo by: James Mieczkowski

As you walked downtown yesterday afternoon, it wasn’t hard to notice something considerably different. It was a lot greener – not on the sidewalk, but on the street. There were extra trees and plants, and people hanging out in lawn chairs and enjoying a sunny afternoon in the Port City. For participants in yesterday’s PARKing Day, the idea was to take a parking spot, and turn it into a park.

Sponsored by Wilmington Downtown Incorporated (WDI), the national PARKing day confines exhibits to an on-street parking space, with participating groups installing pop-up displays that served as temporary parks and gathering spots along Market, Front, Grace, and Second Streets.

Now in the event’s fifth year in Wilmington, PARKing day originally started in San Francisco 10 years ago by a group called Rebar.

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A photo of the first Rebar installation in San Francisco, which went viral in 2005. Photo courtesy of Rebar.

According to Rebar, the organization is “deliberately uncategorized but residing somewhere in the space between art, design and activism, and has become a kind of “project of projects” and brought into being generous public spaces, moments of camaraderie between strangers, novel uses of materials, reclamation of unlikely sites, and outlandish public art…”

For their PARKing Day idea, the group paid for time at a meter in an area of San Francisco that they believed to lack public space, and within the metered parking spot created a “public park.” After the meter had ran out, the group packed up the sod, trees and parking bench and left the spot as it was before. However, after a picture of their public installation went viral, PARKing Day soon extended to over 162 cities, 35 countries, and six continents.

As the movement has spread across the world, it’s gained traction in the Port City as well. Last year’s event included 10 participants, and this year 29 organizations signed up to participate in 26 interactive park exhibits.

“This year’s PARKing Day has attracted overwhelming interest,” said Steve Whitney, chair of WDI’s Dream Committee. “We have an impressive array of organizations and businesses involved and downtown workers, shoppers, residents, and visitors may be surprised at the sophistication and content of the displays,” he said.

Participating businesses and organizations included Next Glass, the Children’s Museum, Cape Fear Museum, U.S. Green Building Council, Wilmington Green, and the American Society of Landscape Architects among many others.

Tinga Nursery, Lowe’s Home Improvement, and Transplanted Garden donated plants and landscaping materials for the exhibits as well.

“It’s been such a beautiful afternoon, and the people who have stopped by are great and seem to have been really interested in what we’re doing, said David Brenner of Wilmington Green, a non-profit organization specializing in planting community gardens. “So it’s helped publicize our mobile gardens, while enjoying some sunshine, and as long as they continue to have the event I’ll be here,” said Brenner.

Related Story:

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

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James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at james.m@portcitydaily.com On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD