Parking Day turns parking places into city parks around town
This Friday, Sept. 18, is Chattanooga’s eighth annual “Parking Day,” when residents of all ages are invited to come downtown and play in the streets as the city’s metered parking spaces become tiny, infinitely varied parks-for-a-day.
“There will be music spots and there will be places where people can sit and relax and hang out,” said Amy Donahue of River City Company, which is organizing this year’s Parking Day. “We have several groups that are going to come and set up some fun activities for people, cornhole and ping-pong and other types of things that people can enjoy and burn about 10 minutes of their day doing that.”
All this in—you read it right—parking spaces. Those rare and coveted slots downtown might seem impossibly tight to parallel parkers wiggling and cussing their way into them, but prior-year Parking Day participants have demonstrated that grand pianos, yoga practice and blacksmithing demonstrations fit handily into the asphalt rectangles.
McKamey Animal Center typically sponsors a puppy-petting forum in its space, Art 120 an expo of its famous Art Bikes, and United Way’s Bookmark Fairy a story-reading and bookmark-making clinic.
Those will all be on tap in this year’s 60 or so “parklets,” said Donahue, plus art for children, dart competitions, cooking demonstrations and performances by multiple dance companies.
“There’s going to be something for everyone, but one of the main tenets of Parking Day is that nothing is to be sold out of the parking spaces,” she said. “The whole idea about the program is that the parking spot is reclaimed for public use for the day.”
Festivities will run from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Friday, with most parklets concentrated in three main areas: Main Street, near Bluegrass Grill; Market Street, in front of Miller Plaza; and Frazier Avenue on the North Shore.
Other parklets will be scattered around town. “There are going to be a few on MLK in front of the Bessie Smith, and there might be a few on the 200 block of Broad Street,” said Donahue.
Parking Day was invented in 2005 by San Francisco-based design studio Rebar to promote healthy urban spaces and vibrant city living. The Chattanooga version was started eight years ago by Buddy Shirk of Summitt Pianos (which still furnishes pianos for the event) with only a few curbside parklets, said Donahue. It quickly snowballed until, three years ago, Shirk and other community members asked River City, a nonprofit established in 1986 to revitalize Chattanooga’s downtown, to take over.
“It’s a great program; it fits really well with River City’s mission, so we were happy to take it on,” said Donahue.
Does she hear complaints that devoting parking spaces to recreation diminishes parking spaces for parking? Donahue says not.
The event closes at 4 p.m., before spaces are needed for evening entertainment, and downtown shops and restaurants have seen an uptick in business for the day itself.
“Most of the folks really enjoy the foot traffic that happens for that day,” she said.