Among the sedans and trucks parked up and down College Street between Wall and Elm streets last Friday was a living room-like space, complete with brightly colored rugs and someone leisurely reading a book on a neon blue inflatable couch.
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The unusual display was part of an annual international event, called Park(ing) Day, that aims to promote awareness about how public space is used. In New Haven, the Urban Collective, a Yale urban studies discussion and action group, coordinated with local organizations to participate alongside hundreds of cities across the world by turning parking spots into public spaces, marking the first time a Yale group has participated in Park(ing) Day. Students who passed the event said they thought the display was effective in provoking questions about the significance of a parked car.
Park(ing) began in 2005 in San Francisco when a local art and design studio fed a parking meter one day and opened up a small grass and bench park until the meter ran out.
Brian Tang ’12, who helped coordinate the event, first found out about Park(ing) during Camp Yale his freshman year, and after participating in Park(ing) independently since then, he eventually passed along the idea to Jenny Bright ’13 and Caroline Tracey ’13, who head up Urban Collective.
This year, the New Haven nonprofit Architecture for Humanity told Tang about their upcoming Park(ing) display — a miniature golf course on Broadway. After hearing about it from Tang, Bright and Tracey sat in on AFH’s Park(ing) planning meetings to get an idea of how to create their own display.
“Urban Collective used to be a more discussion-based group, but when Caroline and I became heads, we wanted to make the group more active and involved,” Bright said. “And Park(ing) was a great jumping off point.”
Urban Collective asked the city of New Haven for permission to lease out a parking spot for the day, paying a small fee to place bags over the meters and block off the area from cars, Tracey said. The city was receptive, she added.
Tracey also contacted the Caseus Cheese Truck to park next to the Park(ing) display to attract people.
“It was great because people waiting on line would glance at our Park(ing) display and ask questions about it,” Tracey said.
Tracey’s tactic may have worked: Sarah Ferguson ’14 said that she would not have known about Park(ing) Day had she not stopped by the Cheese Truck that day.
But when Urban Collective contacted various student groups to collaborate on the event, Bright said, many of them declined because their membership was in transition at the beginning of the year. Eventually, STEP and the New Haven Bike Collective agreed to get involved. STEP brought in recycling bins to the display and helped with the publicity, said Jimmy Murphy ’13, head of STEP’s freshman engagement team and the owner of the rugs and inflatable furniture.
“The absence of a car from a parking spot is related to sustainability as well because it encourages public transportation and the use of bikes,” Murphy said.
Bright also asked architectural firms in New Haven for recyclable mailing tubes and Yale students for unused cardboard boxes to section off the Park(ing) display. The New Haven Bike Collective, a bike repair and recycling group, provided a bike repair area, Tang said.
Bright said she was pleased with the number of people who stopped and inquired about the display, and Tracey said she is hopeful that the event will improve in future years.
“I learned from AFH that they improved their display significantly from the first to their second year, so I’m excited about how we will get even better,” she said.
Still, reaction was not all positive: Bright and Tracey said they saw passing drivers look longingly at the occupied parking spaces.
Six students interviewed said they thought the display made its point effectively.
“It’s a good way to show how a space like a parking spot can be used more efficiently and for better uses,” said Luming Chen ’14.
Park(ing) Day falls on the third Friday in September.