CMU students participate in PARK(ing) Day 2013

Friday was PARK(ing) Day, a worldwide event for which volunteers turned metered parking spaces into small parks.   (credit: Courtesy of Emily Abell) Friday was PARK(ing) Day, a worldwide event for which volunteers turned metered parking spaces into small parks. (credit: Courtesy of Emily Abell)

This past Friday, members of the Pittsburgh community gathered for PARK(ing) Day, a one-day worldwide event where volunteers, including Carnegie Mellon students, convert metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

The PARK(ing) Day project’s mission is “to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat,” according to the PARK(ing) Day website.

The project was started by an art and design studio in San Francisco in 2005 and has since spread across the globe. The 2011 PARK(ing) Day inspired 975 parks in 162 cities, 35 countries, and six continents.

Participants of the project have gone beyond the original pop-up park design to create one-day events within a metered parking spot.

These call attention to other social issues in their specific communities with projects like free health clinics, mini farms, political discussions, ecology demonstrations, and art installations.

Pittsburgh has participated in PARK(ing) Day since 2008, with up to 30 parks sprouting around the city each year. Master’s student in design Emily Abell and senior industrial design major Sharon Winter, along with four other graduate students in design, set up a parking spot on Forbes Avenue near Atwood Street last Friday from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. They fed the meter and used an artificial grass carpet, potted trees, branches, stumps, and a makeshift bench to create their park.

“We wanted to focus on recycling and sustainability; everything we used we found in our own backyards or in Schenley Park, except for the fake grass,” Abell said.

The group also included interactive components in their park, inviting passers-by to write their thoughts about public parks on Post-it notes and to plant seeds in disposable cups from nearby food vendors.

The notes were displayed in the park on wires strung between the potted trees; they included expressions of love for biking, hiking, picnicking, and clean air, as well as sketches of parks and trees.

The park garnered attention throughout the day from pedestrians who frequently stopped to ask questions, write down their ideas, and even eat lunch with the students. “We got a group of office workers from across the street. They said they had been watching us all day and just had to come down and see what we were doing,” Winter said.

Other memorable onlookers included an enthusiastic blogger who took a video of the park, three deaf students who communicated through Post-it notes, and a group of 20 bikers touring all 20 PARK(ing) spots in the city. “People asked if we were taking donations or what the purpose of this was, but it’s all just to get people to think about the way we use urban space,” Abell said.

The project triggered conversations about the desire for more public space, the need for improved public transport to decrease traffic and pollution, and rising prices in parking meters. The project also brought to light other urban issues and alternatives that many guests to the make shift parks admitted to never having considered before. “People asked us if we got any negative remarks, but we didn’t really; everyone was really positive and excited about the idea,” Abell said.

Abell and Winter graduate from Carnegie Mellon in the spring, but they hope that other Carnegie Mellon students will participate in next year’s PARK(ing) Day and that the project will continue to grow in support and interest, both within Carnegie Mellon and the larger Pittsburgh community, and inspiring more people to change the way they use urban space.

More information about PARK(ing) Day in Pittsburgh and around the world can be found at and parking