Using "parklets" to show the importance of public space

September 24, 2015 Keihly Moore

PARK(ing) Day 2015 shows how resourceful creativity transforms public space


Move over, cars – parks are taking over. At least for one day.

On the third Friday of September each year – what’s now known as PARK(ing) Day across the globe – designers, artists, and community members transform city parking spaces into temporary tiny parks, or “parklets,” as they’re affectionately called. The idea is to draw attention to the important role of public space and how it can be used to improve the quality of our communities.

This year our teams in Charlotte and Boston designed parklets for the day. Boston’s parklet was based around the idea of “resourceful creativity.” In other words, we wanted to see how many awesome ideas we could come up with that involved using (or should I say “reusing”) materials we had on hand.


People used the Boston space for both formal and informal meetingsPeople used the Boston space for both formal and informal meetings


With that general idea in mind, we concocted a DIY park, complete with a cardboard canopy with recycled-architectural-drawing leaves flapping in the wind and a bike-chain-esque mini-barrier to define the street edge. We relied on the kindness of some friends and partners, too, to help spice up what our parklet had to offer, including:

  • 30+ plants borrowed from the Boston Gardener
  • a bicycle blender (Biciblender) from Bikes Not Bombs for making smoothies
  • chairs, umbrellas, rugs, and time from our Stantec coworkers

For over five hours we invited passers-by to peddle the Biciblender in our parklet, making 160 smoothie servings. And, thanks to our new compost system, we were able to compost all the scraps and the cups. We got many positive comments from strangers walking by, and two guys from down the street even came back three times, bringing different coworkers to have meetings in the space.

My Stantec colleagues in Charlotte, North Carolina, took the same “resourceful” approach, crafting a comfortable living room type of vibe for their parklet, also made up of reused and donated materials. Their space, which was right down a main drag (Tryon Street) in the city, included handmade chalkboards used to get input from visitors on their favorite things about Charlotte (and the team plans to use those chalkboards for future public meetings). That unique, community-driven spin earned the Stantec team top honors in the contest sponsored by the Knight Foundation – a $500 dinner for the team at a Tryon Street restaurant. (See more of the competition by searching #CLTParkingDay on social media.)


The Charlotte parklet asked people to note what they like most about their cityThe Charlotte parklet asked people to note what they like most about their city


This was my fourth year participating in PARK(ing) Day, and I even helped start the tradition in Charlotte before moving to Boston. Even so, I learn something every time. This year’s lessons:

  1. You need sidewalk chalk to write messages to steer people into the seats. People don't understand they can really sit there.
  2. You need a central activity/something out of the ordinary to pique people's interest and wiliness to stop and investigate. (Free smoothies are perfect for this.)
  3. You need plants. No matter what. Their presence transforms space. Just like that.
  4. Cardboard is a very versatile material. It's a challenge to work with in some ways, but plentiful in an architecture office, and its useful life should be prolonged for as long as possible. (The canopy has a new home around a conference table in our office!)
  5. There will always be nay-sayers when it comes to PARK(ing) Day. One neighborhood guy said: “You cannot put a park there” (as we were cleaning up at 5pm). I said: “I just did.” (And we had a permit.) Perhaps I should have invited him to take a seat in our shade earlier to convince him. Just brush those guys off. The day positively affected so many people.
  6. Watermelon offerings can make amends.
  7. People are generous. 
  8. It's fun giving away things for free and making people happy.
  9. Productive work meetings are more pleasant in a parklet.
  10. Build it and they will come (again and again, three times in one day for some locals down the block). 
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