Reclaim your city! So say the organizers of (PARK)ing Day, a global annual event where citizens turn street parking spaces into temporary public places. It’s one of those cool ideas that I’m proud to say began in my neck of the woods. In 2005, Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, rolled out sod, plunked down a park bench and shoved coins in a parking meter. For the two hour legal parking limit, they created a parklet where city dwellers could rest their feet and relax on-street in the middle of downtown San Francisco.
The idea took hold, and this year close to 1000 parklets were created in 95 countries on six continents to celebrate (PARK)ing Day. This year, five parklets were hosted in downtown San Jose by organizations like Greenbelt Alliance, Cool Cities and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. I rolled past them on my way home last Friday before I caught the Caltrain to meet Dick for a Bike Date Friday dinner in Los Altos.
We don’t often go out in Los Altos. It has a quaint downtown, but it leans toward the sleepy side, serving established older couples or upwardly mobile families with kids. Not the best mix for nightlife.
But this year Los Altos hosted their very first parklet for (PARK)ing Day. Being Los Altos, the parklet was an elaborate affair that spanned three parking spaces, from a Peets coffee shop to the 359 State Street bike shop, which became an art gallery with live music that night. A lot of life for sleepy Los Altos, even if only for one night.
Meanwhile, in my neighboring town of Mountain View, (PARK)ing Day is an everyday event. In the late 1980s, Mountain View reconfigured its downtown Castro Street from a fast four-lane road to a three-lane walking-oriented street. Key to the redesign were flexible on-street spots that can be used however the adjacent businesses desire, from patio seating to curbside car parking to bike parking corrals.
The redesign earned awards, but more importantly it works. Castro Street is now a destination for locals and residents of neighboring cities that makes Mountain View more than a place to work and sleep. It’s a lively place that offers a variety of things to see and do, a place where I’m proud to call home.
What do you look for in a place to do more than sleep and work? Does your city or town have any street life?