Last Friday I attended the first celebration of Park(ing) Day in Washington, DC. Originally conceived & celebrated in 2005 by the artist/activism group ReBar in San Francisco, the concept behind Park(ing) Day is quite simple: reclaim urban space normally taken by cars by taking over different parking spaces for the day and turning them into temporary parks.
Organized by the contributors of the blogs ReadysetDC & F1RSTNR, the original concept for last week’s inaugural Park(ing) Day DC involved four locations around Washington, DC, but at the last minute the DC Department of Transportation threw up some large impediments that made the day’s planned celebration nearly impossible to execute. According to one of the organizers, among the various obstacles that DCDOT came up with was that they wanted the organizers to have large concrete jersey barriers to prevent cars from plowing through the temporary park (really?!).
After hearing about this issue, I mentioned the old direct action maxim: it’s easy to beg for forgiveness, then to beg for permission. As in, if the organizers would have just gone ahead and setup their temporary park(ing) spots and let the police and DCDOT deal with the matter in real-time, they could have ‘begged for forgiveness’ and made a scene in the process. The other way around, being lawful citizens that is, involves going to the DCDOT asking for permission (aka permits) and if the authority isn’t too keen on the concept (which it appears they weren’t) they can make it impossible to undertake.
Thus result was more of a Park(ing) Lot Day than a Park(ing) Day, but that didn’t stop the fun that was had by all the participants. The day’s savior was the owner of the local business Garden District, who currently owns a vacant lot at the corner of 14th & S streets, and allowed the Park(ing) Day organizers to set up there. The organizers drove out to Virginia and picked up 1,500 pounds of sod and laid it down over the asphalt and created their own temporary urban park, which ended up being much larger than a parking space would have been! They also sourced some plants, furniture, books, 3D chalk, christmas lights, and even a badminton set; all of which made the lot more of a corner park for people to hang out at.
I arrived around 3pm and hung out with everyone, took a few photos (above & below) and even made a couple new friends. Around 5:30pm I left and went to a friend’s house to get equipment for the show at the Black Cat later in the evening. And after setting up for the show, I went back to the Park(ing) [Lot] and helped them cleanup park. In all, I had a great time. Next year, however, I am aiming for having a park in the central business district. Check the other photographs I took: