“Hey, Gwenyfar!” A group lounging in lawn chairs waved and greeted me with grins. I was walking down Front Street, on my way to work, when I encountered this unexpected sight of five people in business attire—sans shoes, hanging out in a parallel parking space.
“Um, good morning, ya’ll.”
“It’s Parking Day!” they chorused.
I nodded, taking in the green indoor/outdoor carpeting that covered the asphalt, large potted plants, a sun umbrella and lawn furniture. It was eye catching. But what was the point? The group explained they were trying to raise awareness of the need for more green space and parks in our urban planning.
I thanked them for their commitment and headed into work. That was five years ago. Since, Parking Day has grown significantly from a one parking-space surprise to an annual consciousness-raising event that incorporates groups and organizations committed to improving our community.
Wilmington Downtown Inc. still spearheads the project, which took place September 18, but they have brought in WHQR, Historic Wilmington Foundation, Full Belly Project, and the New Hanover County Public Library, too, among 33 participating groups. People had a lot of fun putting together the project: WHQR brought in landscaping and chairs from The Stone Garden and a bagpiper. Full Belly came out with andassortment of interactive water pumps and machines for kids of all ages to play with. Nina Bays Cournoyer of local theatre company C’est la Guerre put together a performance art stage. Nina was kind enough to share some of her thoughts with me about the world of PARKing Day as hosted by WDI through their “Dream” committee.
encore (e): For the uninitiated, what is PARKing Day?
Nina Bays Cournoyer (NBC): PARKing Day is a global, annual event, held every September, when parking spaces in urban areas are transformed into public spaces via the creation of pop-up parklets. It was intended to create a dialogue about the uses of this valuable real estate (the parking space), and how it connects or adds to the community as a whole. It was started by a San Francisco-based private design studio in 2005 and has since grown into this worldwide movement.
e: How did you learn about it?
NBC: I’m part of the Dream committee. Our focus is reimagining and redefining vacant or unused spaces for public use. The need for green space downtown has always been a large part of our discussions on how to improve the quality of life in downtown Wilmington.
e: Why is it important to you? Why should it be important to the rest of us?
NBC: Public spaces can be an amazing catalyst for growth. They create community, draw visitors, and help define a city’s vibrancy and character, as well as livability. In turn, hopefully, it lends itself to the economic development of the city as a whole. These all are crucial factors to the success of our downtown, especially with the growth spurt it’s experiencing on the north side/Brooklyn Arts District.
It’s so wonderful to see all the development happening, but there’s a delicate balance that needs to be maintained between new construction and open space. PARKing Day brings awareness to the need for these spaces. As a resident of downtown (and a property owner with no yard), I would love to have a structured green space where I can go to read a book, take in some sun, see a concert, watch a movie, etc.
e: What did you do with your space for that day?
NBC: I worked with some of the local performance groups on bringing live entertainment to our space in the afternoon hours. City Stage Co., Cape Fear Dance Theater, Dead Crow Comedy, and C’est La Guerre are some of the groups shared their talents.
e: What do you hope people took away from the experience—both participants and the public?
NBC: I hope people were inspired by the pop-up parklets, and it sparks some questions about how we can best utilize or redefine our existing downtown landscape. I also hope it encouraged people to be more vocal about what they want and don’t want, which will be especially helpful in the design of the new north side park and other pending projects.
As Bays Cournoyer pointed out, PARKing Day began in San Francisco in 2005 with a design firm/art collective known as Rebar. The first PARKing Day only lasted two hours—that was as long as the metered parking space would allow them to stay. But the pictures captured people’s imagination and the idea spread.
Though the issue of green space and public space is important to our local discussion of development and planning, this is not isolated to just us. Not only has PARKing Day spread around the country from its humble beginnings, it has popped up in Germany, Belgium and even in Asia. Clearly, as we discuss the future development of our area, citizen involvement must be key. The city continues to host community input forums for the projects on the north side and the riverfront, so it’s imperative citizens make their voices heard.
Of course, we do have some lovely park areas in the city that are relatively under appreciated and under-utilized. The Greenfield Lake Collaborative formed to try and enhance the experience that is the 90-plus acre park in the center of our city. Working in partnership with the City of Wilmington, the nonprofit strives to make the park more accessible, event friendly and open to citizens who might not even realize it is there. in fact, their annual fund-raiser is coming up on October 2—a Fall Garden Party to kick off Riverfest weekend. Held at Greenfield Lake, there will be live music, food and an open bar, as well as opportunities to learn more about the collaborative’s projects, past and present ($55, greenfieldlakecollaborative.org). It’s pretty great to see a group of people who love the park and therefore have chosen to share that joy with the rest of our community.
Along those same lines, the neighborhood group of Carolina Place did a major tree-planting project a few years ago that included Wallace Park along Metts Avenue. They have another phase of the tree-planting initiative coming up to bring more green space, oxygen, beautification and shade to our wonderful city. Working together, this group of citizens brings a meaningful, long-term impact that benefits many.