Global Pop-Up Park Event Highlights the Value of Urban Green Space

By Danielle Taylor|Posted on September 26, 2012

Last Friday was the eighth annual celebration of PARK(ing) Day, a grassroots movement to reclaim metered parking spaces and turn them into short-term miniparks to bring attention to the need for urban green space. You can read more about the history of the project in the September issue of Parks & Recreation, but to recap this year’s event, we spoke with three different organizations across the country to learn their intentions behind their installations and find out how their parks were received by the community. Most participants in PARK(ing) Day aren’t affiliated with any park and recreation organizations—they’re urban planners, landscape architects, conceptual artists, community advocates, and just regular citizens with an interest in providing more open space to their communities. In Washington, D.C., Casey Trees, a nonprofit organization committed to restoring, enhancing, and protecting the tree canopy of the nation’s capital, participated for its second year with a three-space parklet near the busy downtown intersection of 12th and G Streets. Taking over three parallel spaces, the group set up a park with a few games, some places to sit, and a central area to chat with folks who stopped in to inquire about the project.   Dallas PARK(ing) Day participants set up 57 pop-up parks along downtown streets for this year's event. “It was definitely well received,” says Christopher Horn, communications associate with Casey Trees and coordinator for their project. “We set up in front of a few small businesses, and at the end of the day, when we were packing up, one business owner came out and asked, ‘Where are you taking my park???’” The park’s setup included a few games, some places to sit and relax, a conversation area where staffers could share information about their group’s cause with interested passers-by, and of course, a number of trees. Many people sat down to eat their lunch and enjoy the nice weather, mentioning how nice it was to have an easily accessible place where they could get outside and away from the office for a little while. In Dallas, Texas, 57 parks popped up along Main Street, clearly demonstrating the public’s interest in public green space downtown. “We occupied almost every space for seven blocks of downtown for one continuous park,” says Noah Jeppson, a community organizer who spearheaded the city’s involvement in the event. “We wanted to showcase our community and give people a chance to demonstrate what they’d like to see in the community through parks.” Staying true to Dallas’ alternative vibe, the parks included a number of creative concepts and designs such as open air yoga studios, book swaps, museums, performance stages, and even an arcade. Jacksonville, Florida, hopes to use the event to make the parklet concept work year-round. “With the momentum downtown is receiving now, we feel that it is critically important that we help shape the conversation on what our urban environment should look like,” says Mike Field of Transform Jax, a community advocacy organization for the city. “In our opinion, downtown needs to be revitalized from the ground up with a vibrant pedestrian experience being the primary goal.”  To connect the parklet concept with downtown businesses and showcase how the idea could increase revenue for downtown, participants used parking spaces to set up an inviting outdoor eating area next to a popular restaurant that normally doesn’t have the outdoor space to offer dining al fresco. Using this as a successful demonstration, organizers will propose an initiative in which downtown restaurants can expand outdoor seating areas by taking over a metered parking space through a one-year permitting process.  Although the specific intentions and designs varied from location to location, the overall goal of highlighting the need for urban green space was alive and well in these cities and hundreds of others around the globe, at least for as long as the meters were fed. However, the grassroots effort in Dallas has generated at least one long-term parklet that still stays true to its pop-up roots. “This year on PARK(ing) Day, we inaugurated the first permanent parklet within the city,” Jeppson says. “It’ll move around different areas of downtown and can be adapted for restaurant use or entertainment use, by different businesses and organizations, encouraging people to think longer term at the larger global aspect of how can we use PARK(ing) Day to influence parks and public places for city’s future.”  As these demonstrations show, a park doesn’t have to be huge or even permanent to improve the well-being of a community for as long as they’re around—as long as they’re placed in areas where people will use them, they’re worth the effort. Did you see any PARK(ing) Day installations in your city last Friday? What did they include? This is a great way for you to find out what local residents want to see in their parks, and where they might like for new ones to be located, so you may want to encourage your community to participate in next year’s event. It will be held on September 20, 2013, but it’s never too early to start getting the word out. Check out for more details. Danielle Taylor is Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation.