Houston parking has always had its own set of unique problems, particularly in downtown. Too busy streets, not enough parking spaces and too expensive parking meters are just a few of the many concerns residents must contend with.
Every year, a unique event takes place in cities across the U.S. that serves to remind us that our communities can function as one gigantic art canvas or project, or even a platform for various social calls.
Global PARK(ing) Day, a global, public, participatory art project launched by Rebar in 2005, is a day where people across the world temporarily repurpose street parking spaces and convert them into tiny parks and places for art, play, and activism.
“It was created by urban planners to reconsider the space cities devote to vehicles and how the space could be better utilized,” said Erin Jones, public information officer for Houston Public Works.
Jones said this was the first year the Houston Public Works, Planning and Development and the Administrative and Regulatory Affairs departments collaborated on the event, which was held in September.
Transportation and Drainage Operations Planner Virginia Lynn said putting on the event was relatively easy due to the date being already organized in advance by Global PARK(ing) Day organizers. “We just had to scout a location, invite participants to attend, and make sure the spaces were available on the day of,” she said.
This year, most participants were from city departments, which limited complications, Lynn said. “With the support of many City of Houston departments such as Public Works, Administration and Regulatory Affairs, and the Planning Department, organizing the event was relatively straightforward.”
“In future years, we hope to open the event up to the public on a broader scale so all those who would like to participate will have the opportunity,” she said.
The city reserved 36 parking spaces along Prairie Street between Travis and Fannin Streets to allow the community to transform individual parking spaces into their own personalized “parklets.”
The "parklet" served a variety of purposes, ranging from advocates for bike lanes and even just hosting a rousing game of cornhole. The Administrative and Regulatory Affairs department used their space as a hosting site for BARC to help promote pet adoption.
“Our partner ARA division, ParkHouston, invited us to participate in this year’s PARK(ing) Day to help highlight some adoptable shelter pets and also encourage pet-friendly spaces in urban development,” ARA Public Information Officer Cory Stottlemyer said.
“Not only were we able to adopt out all three puppies that we brought to that day’s event, but our outreach team was provided a unique opportunity to highlight the shelter and advocate for our city’s four-legged residents,” he said.
David Fields, chief transportation planner, said one of Houston's most valuable resources are its streets. “To really make the most out of them, we need make them flexible,” he said.
“PARK(ing) Day shows us that a parking space in the morning could be a park in the afternoon. All that matters is opening our minds to the possibilities,” Fields added.
ParkHouston waived the parking permit fee of $750 to host the event. Lynn said the “cost” incurred by the city was from the staff from various departments taking the time to plan and attend the event in the month and weeks prior.
Fields said this event was an opportunity for Planning and Development to educate the public about transportation safety measures like Vision Zero Houston and the No Parking in Dedicated Bike Lane Ordinance.
“We showcased our Houston Bikeways map and our goals for expanding Houston's high-comfort bikeways,” he said. “Houston BCycle was kind enough to lend us one of their signature red bikes for our festive "Rolling into Fall" themed "photo booth" that many visitors enjoyed.”
Lynn said residents often forget that the city streets are public places.
“PARK(ing) Day is a great opportunity to allow us to reimagine what our streets could look like with fewer cars, and gave Houstonians the ability to engage in community activities, such as trivia, play, relaxation, and even weaving on a loom!” she said. “We hope the transformation of metered parking spaces into temporary 'parklets' challenges everyone to rethink the way we use public space.”