Parking lots might be the antithesis of a creative economy: the side-effects of suburban blight in places that are too dull or dangerous for anyone to want to walk around on foot. Portland owes its vibrancy to the fact that didn't follow the example of other cities, which "solved" their parking problems by tearing down their downtown areas and replacing them with vast parking lots.
But even Portland didn't escape the urban renewal bulldozers entirely: there are over 30 thousand parking spaces consuming over 120 acres of valuable real estate on the Portland peninsula alone — that's more parking space than there is park space in Deering Oaks, the Eastern Promenade, and the Western Promenade combined.
Sure, it's a tragedy of lost history and environmental self-destruction. But now, as the city's growing again with an increasing sense of self-confidence, I prefer to look at those acres of parking lots as huge opportunities to build the new homes, parks, and businesses of a better, more sustainable city.
Today, Portland artists, activists, businesses, and citizens will seize that opportunity on a small scale, by temporarily transforming six downtown parking spaces into public parks and other social spaces. It's Portland's first foray into the global pop-up urban design event called "PARK(ing) Day."
Established in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, PARK(ing) Day challenges people to rethink the public spaces of our streets, and reinforces the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure. The now-global event aims to draw attention to how government-subsidized parking results in increased traffic, wasted fuel, and more pollution, and how the acres of land dedicated to urban parking might be put to better use.
In Portland, reclaimed park(ing) spaces offer relaxation, shelter, games, and refreshments to visitors at sites stretching from the Arts District to the waterfront. Portland Trails created a temporary garden on the angled parking in front of their offices at 305 Commercial Street (near the corner of Center Street), with sod and plants donated from Skillins Greenhouses, and invites visitors to sit and enjoy some free coffee (pictured at the top of this post).
A few blocks to the east, Might & Main, a local design and marketing agency, invites visitors “to take part in First Annual ALL-CITY, All-Bets-Off, No-Holds-Barred, In-It-To-Win-It Free-Form Corn Hole Tournament” at the “Might & Main Promenade” on Thames Street, across from Crema Coffee Roasters.
“We're looking forward to the event as a way to highlight a city that's friendly to alternative transportation,” says Might & Main's Sean Wilkinson. “The Might & Main office is located in the downtown district, where four fifths of our team live, making it easy to walk, bike, bus, and scoot into work and avoid the Portland parking shuffle.”
And on Fore Street, my wife Jess and I, working with architect Morgan Law of Kaplan-Thompson Architects, have erected an “a-park-ment,” a temporary studio living space that demonstrates how a parking spot occupies roughly the same amount of space as an apartment for one. Our hope is that it will draw attention to Portland's shortage of housing: if City Hall were willing to convert just a few of the city’s expensive, low-value parking lots into more productive, taxpaying uses, like housing, then we’d be able to create hundreds of new homes and new jobs, while also reducing our city’s tax burden.
Other Portland Park(ing) spaces include a bicycling-inspired "art park" by LT’s Inc., near Gorham’s Corner...
...and a pleasant bench and garden on Congress Street that's sponsored by the VIA Agency, in front of their headquarters at 619 Congress Street:
And near Longfellow Square, at 690 Congress Street, resident Brian Lessels created a reading lounge with books, a writing desk, and comfortable chairs:
More information regarding local PARK(ing) Day activities can be found at bit.ly/portlandparkingday, and a global map of all participating cities is available on the PARK(ing) Day network: www.parkingday.org.