Reclaiming Land: PARK(ing) Day

In 2005, Matt Passmore looked at a map of San Francisco that highlighted areas of the city lacking green space. Then, with his cohorts at the arts group Rebar, he went to one of these areas, picked a street parking space, unrolled a swath of live sod on top, placed a tree and a bench, and relaxed for two hours—the maximum time the meter allowed.

After Rebar posted photos online, the project went viral. To handle the flood of requests for replicates, the group created an open-source guide to creating a park in metered parking spaces. The project spread. Eventually, Rebar thought it best to designate a specific day for the event, and in 2006 the first official PARK(ing) Day—which aims to reclaim green space from the ubiquitous car-centric culture of American cities—was born.

On September 16, 2011, there were more than 850 PARK(ing) Day installations in 30 countries. Australia’s Design Gallery created an installation demonstrating the use of natural materials in art; kids in Torino, Italy, finger-painted on cardboard; and participants in Beijing, China, created a little park with a picnic blanket (above).

Although the project isn’t always well received by local motorists, PARK(ing) Day has achieved remarkable success in its hometown of San Francisco. In 2010 Rebar worked with city officials to create a “parklet” permit process that allows members of the public to extend the pedestrian realm into the parking lane through small plazas. This year the city’s installations included sculptures, health clinics, and even a booth from the California State Parks office.

“Temporary urban interventions are an excellent way to test new ideas and create urban design projects using a range of tools beyond just sitting behind a computer. This is a more grassroots, tactical approach to urban design, which allows us to engage the city as a living laboratory to incubate and evolve new design solutions.”

Interpreting the Cityscape: Los Angeles Urban Rangers

In the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, a collective of artists and academics—representing public art, architecture, landscape architecture, environmental history, geography, and urban planning—have come together to discover what happens when you treat the city as though it were a national park. Through guided hikes, campfire talks, field kits, and other interpretative tools, the Los Angeles Urban Rangers organize events that help citizens navigate the strange and sometimes daunting conditions of development in their hometown.

Recently, for example, the group hosted a Critical Camp-out on the plaza of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art (above). Participants explored the full spectrum of human habitation represented in downtown Los Angeles, from lofted condos to the city streets, by hiking from gallery row to skid row while the Rangers encouraged observation and discussion.

Originally formed for an exhibition at the Art Center College of Design in 2004, the Los Angeles Urban Rangers soon discovered they’d created a model that resonated with the public. “People responded very positively to the persona of the ranger, who helps people learn to interpret and connect to the place where they are,” says artist Sara Daleiden, a founding member. The role of the ranger has inspired the group’s online initiatives, including downloadable and printable maps, field guides, and owner’s manuals to public spaces.

The Rangers’ practice is expanding. Whether observing a neighborhood’s flora and fauna, questioning the values conveyed through our understanding of urban space, leading safaris on the public beaches of Malibu, or installing trail systems in the Netherlands, the Rangers continue to claim more space as parkland.

Amelia Foster is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.

Featured in Public Art Review #45.