posted 2012-10-05 22:39:43

Make Space for a Slower Pace

Students re-invent space on National Park(ing) Day 

Alexandra Heidler

Associate Arts Editor

We often don’t think about how our space can affect us. Stairs are for climbing, sidewalks are for walking, and parking spaces are for cars. The ritualistic use of concrete can become exactly that in our minds after repetitive utilization. But what happens when we take that concrete concept and re-imagine the impact of a small public space? This is the exact challenge that has been proposed annually since 2005 by design studio Rebar, set in San Francisco, California. This international event called Park(ing) Day challenges local citizens to recreate the use of a simple parking space. Drawing in mostly a collection of artists and designers, Hunter’s graduate students studying Urban Planning took to the streets on Sept. 21st, along with hundreds of others across the globe in attempt to challenge and ask the public what the space would be better valued as.

So, how much impact can one small space make? Enter Molly Braun, 25, Yazmin Robinson, 27, and Natsumi Yokura, 26. These three Graduate Urban Planning ladies put their brains together trying to decide how they could improve the space we use every day. “What we decided to do was have some seating since there isn’t that much around Hunter. Especially outdoor seating, it’s very limited,” said Braun.

Pushing 21,000 actively enrolled students, it’s not that hard to agree that space is limited. Our bridges are constantly filled with the huddling masses, separated behind bars at head level as we sit down to eat our lunch between classes, attempt to enjoy our books, or break from our homework during that frantic rush before class. Forget about finding a comfy seat in one of the many plush armchairs scattered around the campus.

In an attempt to provide some relief, the space hosted several benches and three tables set up to encourage the exploration and sharing of ideas. A collection of small items and oddball tokens covered two tables. “We have a space where people can create their ideal park,” Braun said. Stacked with popsicle sticks, hair curlers, and tiny figurines, these two tables encouraged citizens to build their own perfect park.

The third table to the far right was littered with markers and scribbles from the community. Covered in butcher paper and diverse handwriting were the contributions of other thoughtful citizens. The words “I wish this was…” were etched out and dominated the top of the table. Fostered responses of more than a few came in all shapes and sizes, “I wish this park was a reserved space for smokers” writes one in response to the recent reshaping of the smoking policy at CUNY. Another person wrote “An ongoing awesome party with music, cupcakes, and weed.” Some other re-imaginations were a bit more simple and plausible, “A place to enjoy my daily cup of coffee.”

Although there was an open-ended discussion being hosted at the table, Braun, Robinson, and Yokura envisioned a place to slow down and take in the surroundings. All of the material at the parking space was reclaimed, recycled, or in the case of the markers, donated for the cause. Robinson said one “fun part of the project was building the benches,” which they all did by hand using old shipping pallets. Hosting the event has also given her and her classmates a chance to talk and connect with the people passing through. “Usually you’re so busy and just walking through. This project seems to be facilitating a bit more of a sense of community,” Robinson said.

Anyone interested in hosting their own Park(ing) Day would do well to check out the manual and register their ‘park’ for next year. You can find all the information you need at doxa/2012/09/parking-day-manual/. Be sure to check out this studio’s other creative and socially minded blend of projects such as their “Pavement to Parks” program in their hometown of San Fransisco, to their “Panhandle Bandshell” which is composed of entirely reclaimed materials.