This story was updated on Oct. 9, 2014.
Creating mini parks from parking space for a day proved to be just as fun as its organizers hoped and brought forth a lot of good ideas for the community, too.
Park(ing) Day, an international event that saw 975 “PARK” installations in more than 160 countries in 2011--the last year such numbers were gathered--is growing across the globe and this year parking spaces in St. Joseph were turned into four "parks," places to play pingpong, to sit back and read a book, to talk to neighbors or stretch out in a hammock.
Krasl Art Center, St. Joseph Public Library, Whirlpool Creatives Association and Wightman and Associates, Inc. are collaboratied to bring the event to the area in celebration of the day citizens, artists, and designers temporarily transform parking spaces into temporary public parks.
They created four "parks" -- one in downtown St. Joseph on the corner of Broad and State streets and three next to the Krasl Art Center and the St. Joseph Public Library.
With their location in actual parking spaces the conversation with those who dropped by often centered on parking in St. Joe and whether more parking is needed. A place to record ideas for the community was provided and that will be compiled, says Jamie Balkin, of Wightman and Associates, Inc.
As a first-time event there were some lessons to be learned about where to place the mini parks.
"We found the yard games station to be popular, but we think it would have been even more utilized if it was near more foot traffic," says Christopher Gregory, an organizer of the event.. "We think that onlookers may have assumed we were having a private block party, so the next time Park(ing) day occurs we'd like to experiment with other locations downtown closer to the business district. "
He says the library station was very peaceful, and he wishes there were more benches outside to sit and read on, but in a location where you don't feel "on display" like the bluff. He suggests "the space between the St Joseph Library and Krasl Art Center may be ideal, if more seating were to 'materialize' there."
A number of "ah-ha" moments happened throughout the day. For example, one couple that stopped by said they liked to visit St. Joe because it is dog friendly.
Gregor says that the day provided a lot of information about how residents view their community.
"One big takeaway for me was the idea that residents are largely satisfied with the temperament of our city; it's size, it's moral character, it's excellent education system, and it's low crime rate. People here seem to really enjoy their quality of life, and most people agreed that the lake is the biggest draw."
Residents also say, however, that they would rather go to a city like South Haven, Grand Rapids, or Chicago for a day of activities. "It seems that local residents have become resigned to the fact that during the prime summer months our city exists primarily for tourists, and there's not room enough for both groups," Gregory says. "Potentially, I think there is enough room; enough parking; enough land available for new restaurants and stores to open that would give locals and tourists enough room to co-exist, all year long.”
Wightman and Associates, Inc. architects are passionate about the possibilities of renewing urban areas that often are the theme of such Park(ing) Day events.
"A number of people were saying that this is our first experience and we would like to grow it from here," Balkin says. "This is just a starting point and we will see where it goes in the future. We were using parking spaces as a place to have a conversation on how people would like to see spaces differently. It was a opening conversation."
Gregory says a few other community members in Benton Harbor showed support and interest in helping bring some stations there next year. "I think that is 'a must' if we want to have this larger discussion about the health and resiliency of our twin cities,"
He sites Benton Harbor Planning Commissioner Rich Hensel, one example of those who are interested in such discussions. Hensel has already started an interesting Facebook group called Urbanity: Ideas for a New City
which is "for people who are interestedin sharing ideas about preserving or creating communities that are inviting, inclusive, beautiful places to visit and live."
Park(ing) Day originated in San Francisco when a group of people decided to draw attention to the amount of space dedicated to cars and other vehicles in the city compared to the amount of space set aside for people. Now the day has become a time for people at the grassroots level to highlight the needs of the community and use the parking spaces to highlight those needs.
"I think the most important thing to take away is this: You are a stakeholder in the future of this community! You should help create a vision of what it could be, or else someone else will do it for you," Gregory says.
Source: Jamie Balkin, Wightman & Associates, Inc.