This Friday, Tacoma will have 33 new parks. They won’t be big ones — around the size of an average vehicle — and they’ll last only from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. But while they exist, they’ll offer everything from fake grass to carnival games and sofas made of recycled cardboard, plus plenty of friendly people ready to start up a conversation. It’s all part of Park(ing) Day, an annual worldwide event that sees regular folks create temporary public open space by staking out a street parking spot and getting creative.
“To me, this is like a party,” said Dr. Jamie Brooks, who has created a Park(ing) Day park in front of her office, Brooks Dental, on Commerce Street for three years now. “Anything that gets people excited about the community is good to me.”
But Park(ing) Day has a bigger aim than just fun and community. Begun in 2005 by San Francisco-based design studio Rebar, the event “calls attention to the need for more urban open space and challenges people to rethink the way streets are used,” according to the press release from Downtown On The Go. The Tacoma transportation advocacy nonprofit organizes the local version of the event.
And it seems to be working. From its first Tacoma incarnation in 2009, which saw just one space hosted by Downtown On The Go itself, Park(ing) Day has blossomed into a downtown-and-Hilltop-wide event with 33 “parks” and two scheduled walks around the spots. This year there’ll also be food trucks, located on Pacific Avenue between South 11th and 12th streets. An online map of all the “parks” makes it easier to find them, and all parks will have paper copies of the map. As with last year’s event, there’s a passport of “parks” — visit five or more and get the passport stamped, and you’ll get a chance to win prizes. Finally, Spaceworks — the city of Tacoma program that links up artists and enterprises with vacant space — will get a parking spot ready for a preview the night before outside their building, 1120 Creative House, on Pacific Avenue.
“It’s fun to do,” said Jonah Jensen, senior associate at BLRB architects, which has mounted a “park” for five years now with themes from school recess and picnics to the company van wrapped completely in butcher paper for passersby to draw on.
This year’s BLRB space will be a kind of “reclaimed living room,” said Jensen: “Being architects, we go through a lot of paper. So we’re creating furniture out of the cardboard tubes (from inside paper rolls). There’ll be carpet tiles and that kind of thing. We’re aiming for a nice seating atmosphere for passersby.”
For Jensen, more conscious than most of us about urban design, Park(ing) Day helps by “bringing consciousness to creating great urban environments,” he said. “It gives the opportunity for pause.”
Brooks, meanwhile, is keeping her “park” design more of a secret, but said it’s themed around carnivals, with plenty of good photo opportunities and other interactive elements, just like previous years’ designs themed around retro gardening and camping.
“We want to draw people in, get them to stop and look,” said the dentist, who’ll be out there some of the time but who also has friends to man the spot who aren’t afraid to make eye contact and talk to people about the event.
“I love Tacoma, and I love anything to do with community,” explained Brooks, on why she goes to the effort of converting a parking spot into a completely different scene every year. “I like doing my part out there. ... I think downtown has so much potential.”
Want to join in? It’s too late for this year, said Meagan Kula of Downtown On The Go, citing the event’s August deadline. Anyone can pay for a parking spot, but to put anything there other than a vehicle is prohibited under section 9.08.020 of the municipal code, which forbids private uses of public right-of-ways, and section 46.61.570 of the Revised Code of Washington, which prohibits prolonged stopping in parking paces.
But remember to apply for next year, and you’ll be helping expand Tacoma’s roster of parks — for a few hours, at least.
IF YOU GO
What: Park(ing) Day.
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday; preview 5-8 p.m. Thursday outside 1120 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.
Where: Street locations around downtown Tacoma and the Hilltop, find locations at downtownonthego.org and on paper maps at any “park.”
And also: Group walks depart 11 a.m. at People’s Park, South Ninth Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way; and noon at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, South 15th and Commerce streets.