As students walked in and out of Collegetown last Friday, many were surprised to find that an ordinary parking space had become a public park for the day. Some even chose to sit down upon the mat of fall foliage and talk with the landscape architects who arranged the site. Nearby, a can collected donations to feed the meter.
“Some people consider open space to be prohibitive in big infill developments,” said Christopher Mateo grad, secretary of the American Society of Landscape Architects’s Cornell chapter’s executive committee. “We want to show how much green space you can contain in a 9-by-18 square foot plot.”
The Cornell student chapter of American Society of Landscape Architecture turned the parking spot outside of Schwartz Performing Arts Center into a miniature park last Friday. PARKing Day, an annual event where artists, activists and students transform metered parking spots into “PARK(ing)” spaces, aims to raise awareness about the need for open, green space in urban areas.
Imitating a typical public park, leafy plants on loan from a local garden center lined the spot’s edges, leaving the interior open and accessible to pedestrians. Fountain grass, mums, queen palms and other plants created an inviting atmosphere that attracted at least one person every two minutes from the event’s start at 7:30 a.m. until its end at 5 p.m., Mateo estimated.
“Upon passing by, my first thought was that in a busy college town, the [number] of potted plants and leaves was odd. It seemed misplaced almost, but serene,” said Michael Spanier ’11, who decided to relax for a while in one of the chairs available.
While Friday marked Cornell’s second PARKing Day, the event originated in 2005 when Rebar Group, a San Francisco art and design collective, responded to a lack of public green space—70 percent of San Francisco’s downtown outdoor space is reserved for vehicles — by converting a parking space into a temporary public park, according to Rebar’s website.
Since then, the movement has spread tremendously: people in 100 cities in 20 countries take part, according to The New York Times. According to Rebar’s website, participants have deviated expanded from installing typical park design to setting up temporary free health clinics, political seminars, art installations, bike repair shops and even a wedding in metered parking spots.
The demand for more green space in lush Ithaca is not as high as that of urban San Francisco. Leigh McGonagle ’10, one of the main organizers of the event, explained that PARKing Day here focuses more on celebrating the natural beauty of Ithaca.
“It is a really fun way to highlight what we do as landscape architects and to support a national organization promoting green space,” McGonagle said. Mateo also noted that the event served as a meaningful way for landscape architects to bond together.
All participants stressed that the demonstration intended solely to raise awareness, not to stir controversy.
“One person asked if we were planning to turn this [parking space] into a permanent park — if we were trying to ban parking. [Our demonstration is] not meant to be taken literally, but rather, symbolically,” said Lindsey Langenburg ’10, an urban regional studies and landscape architecture student who participated in the event.
Although the park created by the demonstrators was not permanent, the 2009 Collegetown Urban Plan and Conceptual Design Guidelines, a document containing specific master planning recommendations for the neighborhood bearing its name, was endorsed this summer. The plan includes renovations such as planting continuous rows of trees on both sides of College Avenue from Oak Avenue to Mitchell Street and “substantially” widening the sidewalks on the 400 block of College Avenue and the 200 block of Dryden Road.
At 9 a.m., participants started feeding the meter at a rate of $1 per hour. For a total of $8, they leased prime real estate to create a green sanctuary for whoever wanted to stop by.
Kathleen Walkley ’10 hoped that the event reminded fellow students to seek out green space once they leave Ithaca.
“Just because Cornell students are going off to big cities does not mean that they have to accept pavement and asphalt — they can make any space a little garden or park,” Walkley said.