Parking spaces around the globe were temporarily reclaimed last week for the annual anti-car PARK(ing) Day festival on September 20.

The event was initiated in 2005 by San Francisco-based art and design firm Rebar, who decided to turn a regular car parking space into an urban park for a day.

Artists, activists, architects and citizens took part in transforming metered parking spaces into various social havens across their cities.

“From public parks to free health clinics, from art galleries to demonstration gardens, PARK(ing) Day participants have claimed the metered parking space as a rich new territory for creative experimentation, activism, socialising and play,” said Rebar principal John Bela.

The last recorded participation numbers come from 2011 which saw 975 parks transformed across 162 cities in 35 countries over six continents. It was at that point that organisers stopped keeping track of numbers and labeled it a global event.

The aim of PARK(ing) Day is to imagine alternative ways the urban space can be used rather than just to park a car. Discussion is encouraged around the issues and changes needed surrounding urban infrastructure.

“In a motorised city, on average 30 per cent of the surface is devoted to roads while another 20 per cent is required for off-street parking,” said Dr Jean-Paul Rodrigue of Hofstra University in New York.

Adelaide Parking Day

Adelaide Parking Day

“The planning strategies that have led to traffic congestion, pollution and poor health in cities everywhere do not reflect contemporary values, nor are they sustainable,” said REBAR principal Matthew Passmore. “PARK(ing) Day raises these issues and demonstrates that even temporary projects can improve the character and quality of the city.”

As the yearly event continues to grow, several city governments have extended the public realm into parking lanes after seeing its positive social impact. New York’s ‘pop up café’ program allows permits for local cafés to offer sidewalk service. San Francisco began operation of the Pavement to Parks “Parklet” program which grants businesses, individuals and local community groups permits to transform parking spaces into small “parklets” that are open to the public.

Several other cities in the US and worldwide are also eager to expand the public realm into street parking.

“PARK(ing) Day, which began as a guerilla art project, has been adopted by cities and integrated into their official planning strategies,” said Rebar principal Blaine Merker. “A relatively modest art intervention has changed the way cities conceive, organize and use public space, which is really gratifying.”

Australian cities Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth all took part in this year’s urban festival.

In Perth, a team of landscape architecture students from The University of Western Australia (UWA) teamed up with local representatives from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) to create an urban park in the two allocated parking bays on William Street.

The team’s urban park, called “The Living Room,” aimed to draw attention to the need for more people to live within the CBD in order to foster a safe, vibrant city occupied around the clock.

San Francisco carpark

A San Francisco carpark turned loungeroom

“The project allows an excellent opportunity for students to interact with one another and engage the public with their built concept in a really busy part of the city,” said UWA professor Tony Blackwell.

In Adelaide, a city in need of more CBD residents and public open spaces, PARK(ing) Day is extremely popular. The city lacks a real walking culture and only seems to have one popular outdoor public space, that being Rundle Mall.

Architects and urban designers are working on ways to create more permanent people-focused areas of the city and the PARK(ing) Day festival helps to draw attention to the need.

Alex Hall, a senior architect at HASSELL and one of Adelaide’s PARK(ing) Day co-ordinators, said the festival acts as a valuable source of practical information and data.

“The event generated 60 percent more foot traffic last year, so that means more people in front of shops, more ability to create revenue, more vibrancy and more atmosphere,” he said. “All positive outcomes that take place when spaces become public.”

The event in Adelaide was a success and enabled people to experience the city in a new way and to understand the potential for activation of a relatively quiet CBD.

“Urban inhabitants worldwide recognise the need for new approaches to making cities,” said Passmore. “It’s about re-imagining the possibilities of the urban landscape.” PARK(ing) Day gave some useful ideas on how future planning can prioritise people over cars and increase social spaces to increase positive urban activity.