(PARK)ing Day Every Day: From Parking Lot to Vibrant Community Space

Posted by Katie Donahue

On September 22, 2012, I smashed the crap out of a car. I tore off the side mirror and beat the hood mercilessly. And it felt great. It was my first time experiencing (PARK)ing Day, and it was a turning point for me. This made-up holiday was invented by urbanists to take a day out of the year to plug a meter at a parking spot, and instead of filling the place with a car, fill it with people. 

Parking spots all over Denver were filled with plants, picnic tables, art work, people working, people playing, and—incidentally—one spot with a jar that was labeled “complaints in life,” a sledgehammer, and a totalled car to take it out on. The same eight blocks I walk from work to school went from a dreary trudge between a parking garage and parked cars to something really engaging. I was increasingly inspired with each human-occupied parking space I stopped at, playing jenga, painting, or chatting with new friends.

I’m not saying that smashing cars and doing away with parking is the answer. What I am suggesting is that we take back our cities, if even just slightly, and commit a better percentage of our valuable real estate to the positive interaction of people instead of just containers for empty cars. Recently, Architecture for Humanity-Denver (AfH) has embarked on such a task. The Parking Lot Project is our attempt at an urban intervention to transform a derelict parking lot into a multi-purpose community space.

The current lot belongs to the Museo de las Americas (Museo), a wonderful museum that supports art of the Americas and believes in Latino community enrichment and art education. The Museo’s staff are mostly crammed into a windowless basement with low ceilings. This is also where they hold their wildly successful Museo de las Americas Summer Camp (MASC) targeted to help the at-risk Latino youth population. A pretty kid-drawn sign of a flower that says “WATCH YOUR HEAD” is taped to large pipes that jut out of the ceiling and have obviously been responsible for lots of goose-eggs. All the while, the best space on the property—with fresh air, glimpses of the mountains, art murals, and access to 300 days of Denver sunshine—is occupied. By empty cars.

The Museo is an incredible community asset, and so we at AfH came up with a way to repurpose salvaged materials to redesign their parking lot. Old hollow-core doors will be made into a fence, old flooring will become an awning, and old sailboat sails will become a canopy during the summer. We understand that parking is a hot commodity in this neighborhood, and is still important in making community gems like the Museo accessible. The design for the Parking Lot Project is flexible and can accommodate cars when the Museo isn’t holding summer camp, community film nights, gallery events, or fundraisers. But the new nature of the once-parking-lot will activate the alley and be a more enjoyable place.

The project is slated for construction this summer of 2013, and we have just started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for materials and services that we either couldn’t find salvaged or couldn’t find available by donation. We hope that we’ll get support from more people who agree that we need to keep pushing the needle from placeholding for cars to placemaking for people.

This project was featured in GOOD's Saturday series Push For Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.

Photos courtesy of Katie Donahue; rendering courtesy of Nathaniel Alexander Capaccio.