Park(ing) Day Could Be Every Day
Every third Friday of September, people across the world temporarily repurpose selected street parking spaces and convert them to small parks as part of PARK(ing) Day. DIY means are used to make these places for art, play, and activism. Although it is a simple occupation of a single parking space, it is a powerful idea advocating for a ‘City for People’ approach to public space use. Park(ing) Day started in 2005 by Rebar group in San Francisco. Their idea was to transform a parking space with some grass, a bench, and a small tree in a pot. There was an additional ‘hack’ that enabled the use of this public real estate — slotting a few coins in the parking meter.
Temporary urban interventions like Park(ing) Day, whether initiated by ordinary citizens or by elected representatives, fall within tactical urbanism. This is a methodology used for incremental redesigning of public space through testing solutions (from testing a one-day event, to a yearlong temporary urban intervention). The physical testing leads to a confident approval of a more permanent design. Some cities have been using this methodology more than others, like New York with its tactical plazas and bike lanes in the late 2000’s and beyond.
Curbside activation has since become an expected component of curb management strategies. It offers vibrant social spaces with uses such as: food trucks, parklets, patios and ‘streateries’, public art, seating, and street festivals.
However, considering the changes brought on by a global pandemic, informal and temporal use of space has gone ‘mainstream’ and has expanded substantially, it can be seen on every main street in many cities.
The global pandemic has redefined the way cities value their curb space. Through the re-appropriation of curb space, ‘space’ was ‘created’ out of seemingly ‘nowhere’—a new real-estate to address emergent issues in the city. These spaces allowed people to continue visiting businesses such as restaurants while eating outdoors in temporary patios or through newly designated curbside pick-up zone.
During the pandemic, CurbIQ was used to help support the CaféTO program in Toronto, which included more than 1000 on-street patios. As a pandemic response tool, CurbIQ’s curb management solution allows for efficient methods to implement and communicate these changes to citizens so they can feel safe while engaging the public realm.
Dealing with the Ever-Changing Curb Use
Curb space can be found ubiquitously throughout the city. The curbside provides access to locations on a per use / time basis. The dynamic nature of the curb means that it can change from one use to another, although the change in restrictions of use needs to be documented on physical signposts. Nevertheless, this flexibility presents an opportunity to address emerging and temporal demands, such as the pandemic patios or shared mobility. The challenge is to find solutions that allow the curb to adapt and change its use according to current demand or needs of the population or its location and road type.
Cities are rethinking the way they manage their curbside activities as the need to make frequent decisions about changing the use of the space increases. The challenges around curb usage and (re)allocation can be addressed in two steps: first, by digitizing the curb inventory, and second, by providing real-time access to this inventory.
An ever-growing list of traditional and emerging curb uses and users could benefit from access to a digitized curb inventory. Controversially, the allocation of emerging curb uses requires the elimination of traditional parking spaces. Having a curb inventory allows cities to better understand the impact on parking in a region and assess additional impacts such as reduction in emissions resulting from dedication of space towards sustainable mobility uses, rain gardens, greenery, road safety or communal uses.
Currently, each curb use must go through different hoops of regulations when changing from one use to another. The digitization of curb inventory could help in streamlining the reallocation process. This would make approval of transformations quicker and easier to manage, enforce and document. Shared with the public, the digitized curb inventory could also be used for online engagement for local municipalities to consult with residents and businesses about their needs and desires for a specific street section.
Once the curb inventory is digitized and can be accessed in real-time, we can start thinking about curb space booking permission for predefined uses regulated through up-to-date e-permits. Admittedly, the first thought that comes to mind when we think of the possibility of “curb space booking” is ‘parking’. However, booking the space could be used for any number of things: Zero Emission Delivery zones, flexible loading zones, street vendor or food truck e-permits, micromobility booking, on-street EV charging station, or Mobility Hubs.
Or… how about enabling activities with the same intentions expressed by the organizers of Park(ing) Day events yearly. How about a bookable temporary use of space to provide opportunities for gathering and real-life social encounters.
Civic Use of Public Space, Virtual Presence
Following the same logic, we can look beyond the curb space and on to the public space. The virtual presence of streets, plazas and parks could provide access to real-time information about temporary events and activities. The ‘programming’ of such spaces for communal and civic use could be done through digital placemaking initiatives.
As part of the Pavement to Plazas program, streets are transformed into plazas. For example, the Jim Deva Plaza, in Vancouver’s West End, once a street, now a small plaza with funky lights, and a space for performances and gatherings. The plaza also has a virtual presence (website and social media) where it is possible to look up, propose an event, or in other words help ‘program’ the space. This is a low barrier, low tech way to provide access to the programming of public space through the virtual public domain.
Looping back to Park(ing) Day, what if we could book curb spaces, traditionally used for parking, for civic activities and community events? Connecting placemaking initiatives with the digitized curb could allow this idea to become a reality. Then Park(ing) Day could be any day, every day, and eventually become an everyday urban activity.
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