Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Not Just a Place to Park Your Car: PARK(ing) as Spatial Argument

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Not Just a Place to Park Your Car: PARK(ing) as Spatial Argument

Article excerpt

"Providing temporary public open space ... one parking spot at a time."

--PARK(ing) Day (1)

Metered parking spaces are a valuable commodity in most cities. Car drivers vie for a precious parking spot in busy urban centers. Cars move in and out of these parking spaces into seemingly endless flows of traffic and congestion. But is it possible to reinvent the metered parking space? Might the space be used for a purpose other than parking a car? Is it possible to reimagine an urban parking space as a temporary city park? Rebar, a San Francisco interdisciplinary studio working at the intersection of art, design, and ecology to engage in "creative repurposing of familiar elements to produce new meaning" (Merker, 2010, p. 51), did just that. In the spirit of The Situationist International's "inclination to transgress the boundaries found in culture and cities" (Sadler, 1998, p. 44), Rebar created the 2005 performance installation, PARK(ing). Noting how parking spaces in San Francisco are not explicitly reserved for private vehicles, the group leased a parking spot, rolled out sod, erected a potted tree, and put down a bench for passersby to stop and sit. Rebar described it as a "temporary public park that provided nature, seating, and shade ... thereby temporarily expanding the public realm and improving the quality of urban human habitat, at least until the meter ran out" (Rebar Group, Inc., 2010, para 3-4).

Following the initial installation, the image of a park oddly sitting in a parking space in San Francisco (see Figure 1) became an image event (DeLuca, 1999a) that quickly disseminated in the public screen (DeLuca & Peeples, 2002). Co-organizer Blaine Merker (2010) explained, "The combination of the iconic image of parking-space-as-park and its accompanying descriptive name created a 'sticky' idea that transmitted readily across electronic media" (p. 46). Eventually people from all over the world contacted Rebar to find out how to stage such an event. In 2006, Rebar picked a day as "PARK(ing) Day" and encouraged people to make their own creative, artistic, tactile and performative PARK(ing) installations on that day to raise awareness of a variety of issues and causes facing urban dwellers (Stuart, 2006). In the years since, PARK(ing) Day has become an international movement that takes place annually on the third Friday of September "with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world" (Rebar Group, Inc., 2012a, para. 1). The latest numbers posted on the PARK(ing) Day website reveal that the 2011 PARK(ing) Day included 957 parks in 162 cities, in 35 countries, and across six continents (Rebar Group, Inc., 2012d). (2) However, according to the organizers, quality is more important than quantity. They acknowledge that a high number of PARKs is good, but counter that, "having great PARKs is even better; PARKs that propose an alternate vision for the use of urban space, PARKs that convince others to join the cause, PARKs that change minds, PARKs that make you smile" (Rebar Group, Inc., 2012e, para. 1). PARK(ing) is a playful subversion of the enduring normalized spatial practices of the built urban environment, a spatial meme for users to rethink and recreate their own public urban spaces.

While there are many ways to engage with the PARK(ing) movement's experiments in representing what alternative urbanity might look like including the aesthetic, embodied, and performative nature of the PARK(ing) installations, (3) we are particularly interested in how the movement uses place and space to make arguments. PARK(ing) installations and the larger movement are non-verbal spatial arguments that put forward an alternative vision of urban space. The installations themselves make an argument that parking spaces can be used for things other than cars. The installations serve as examples of the different uses that are possible. …

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