© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Park(ing) Day Encourages Discussion of Public Space Use

Between dancing and hula hooping, Guaranga Gardner played an 18-hole game of mini golf with his dad and cousin Friday afternoon in Lawrenceville parking spaces.

The toddler occasionally pointed to the semi-trucks passing-by the pop-up park his grandmother sat in.

The course was spread out in transformed parking spaces, each with its own layout or theme, such as Rebecca Mizkar and Laura Santore’s homage to their shared Carpatho-Rusyn heritage with Andy Warhol by displaying a Warhol portrait of his mother.

The spaces were part of Pittsburgh’s seventh annual Park(ing) Day, in which artists, businesses and community members transform a parking space into a park for the day.

Thor Erickson, Design Center programs manager and volunteer coordinator for the event, said the purpose was to generate conversation on land use and make people aware there are other uses for public spaces such as parking spots.

The worldwide event began in San Francisco after Rebar Art and Design Studio rolled out sod and set up benches in a two-hour parking spot. The 2005 photo went viral and sparked a movement of showing how a public space can be used not just for cars, but also pedestrians. 

The event is neither anti-car nor anti-pedestrian, Erickson said, but about people and how spaces should be used in a community.

“The goal is not to transform the city permanently, but to make people aware of potential uses for space,” he said.

Some businesses used the day as a test site for potential use of space in front of the building during low-peak traffic times and converting it back to parking during high-travel periods.

Thirty-three groups participated this year, including the Parking Authority for the first year. In the same way the event allowed the Design Center to talk to people about urban design and community development, Erickson said the Parking Authority was able to spread its message of smart meters and other parking initiatives. The group also waived parking fees for all registered groups, including a downtown space which could go for $30 a day.

In one of those downtown spaces a group in full business attire ate lunch at a picnic table on an artificial grass rug as children played in the sand a few feet away. Mayor Bill Peduto’s office and City Council members sponsored the spaces on Fourth Avenue outside of City Hall.

Giant games of chess, Jenga and Connect Four were set up on Liberty Avenue and other spaces scattered throughout the city were decked out in plants and lawn chairs.

Mizkar said curious pedestrians stopped at her space throughout the day.

“It’s a natural way for people to walk from space to space and see what a public space could be,” she said.  

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.