Urban advocates give parking new meaning

Metered parking spots in downtown New Haven were transformed into spaces for eating cupcakes, playing games and sharing ideas on Friday as part of a global event called Park(ing) Day.

The Park(ing) Day project — an annual worldwide event when citizens, artists and organizations collaborate to advocate for better use of urban spaces — began in 2005, when Reba, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a metered parking spot into a temporary public park. Since 2005, over 160 cities in 35 countries around the world have adapted the project to address their cities’ urban problems and point out the need for increased open space. New Haven has participated in the event since 2008.

“The goal of Park(ing) Day is to show that streets are for more than just cars,” said Deputy Director and Manager of Parking Enforcement Mike Mohler, who organized New Haven’s Park(ing) Day this year. “This is just a really creative way of demonstrating that the space can be used for things besides cars.”

This year, New Haven witnessed its largest cohort of urban advocates, with 10 local organizations sponsoring parks. The city provided the parking spaces free of charge and actively publicized the event. Organizations were allowed to use their parking space however they wanted, Mohler said.

Yale Transportation Options — a University program founded in 2007 to develop sustainable transit solutions for the Yale community — converted a parking space in front of Urban Outfitters on Broadway into a birthday-themed booth with free Sweet Mary’s cupcakes, cider and coffee as well as a chance to play “Pin the Tailpipe on the Car.”

Yale’s Director of Sustainable Transportation Holly Parker said she participated in the event to show people how parking spaces could be used differently.

“If you are thinking about an urban environment with constrained spaces, storing cars just doesn’t seem like the best way to use space,” Parker said.

The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute created an “idea park” on College street where pedestrians could share community problems and brainstorm solutions while munching on candy. The group set up a large “idea board” on which students wrote down issues like “beating Harvard,” and others bullet-pointed solutions including “bringing back tailgates.”

Margaret Lee ’15, a student intern at YEI, said that the team had a two-part mission in setting up their idea park: to stay true to the philosophy of Park(ing) Day by creating a green area for community interaction and to garner student interest in YEI.

“I think we have been pretty successful because we have lots of ideas going and people have been asking what we are about,” Lee said.

Also stationed on College street was Yale’s Urban Collective. The student organization dedicated to urban studies spent the afternoon lounging on lawn chairs and offering glasses of Arnold Palmer to pedestrians. Urban Collective co-president Josh Isackson ’15 said that he hopes Park(ing) Day encourages people to rethink the way downtown space is used.

“If you look at downtown New Haven as a whole, parking is a huge problem,” Isackson said. “There are way too many parking spots, and that encourages people to have cars, which is inefficient and takes up a lot of space. Park(ing) day can hopefully bring attention to that.”

Among the other New Haven parks was an old bike display sponsored by Devil’s Gear Bikes, an outdoor lounge area sponsored by New Haven Arts Council, a Bean Bag Toss run by the city’s Transportation, Traffic & Parking Department and an Art Walk featuring sculptures by students from Co-op High School.

Parking Day is held annually on the third Friday in September.

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