Today is International Park(ing) Day! This is a day celebrated around the world by converting on-street parking spaces to mini, temporary “parklets.”

It’s a form of tactical urbanism and is intended to show communities that their public space can be greater than just a storage spot for cars. Particularly in cities where on-street parking is common, Park(ing) Day openly challenges the idea that cars should be stored in the public right of way. Park(ing) Day asks, “What else could these spaces be for?” “How else could this public street resource be used for our community?” “What are the costs to having our streets lined with empty cars, instead of filled with people?”

Park(ing) Day 2016, Chapel Hill

This event also contributes to the growing awareness of the [negative] impact of driving on our communities, health, economy, and mobility. If people didn’t have to drive (and thus, didn’t have to park), what could those spaces be for? And if we minimize the available parking (and thus the induced demand for driving), what other benefits might we see from increased pedestrian or cyclist activity? The research suggests (thanks, people at Bike East Bay for aggregating these studies!) that walking and biking have greater economic returns than driving – as one measure, people who walk or bike to downtowns spend more and stay longer than people who drive.

Today’s local Park(ing) Day event is being held until 8:00pm on E. Franklin St., close to the intersection with Columbia Road across from UNC’s campus (approx. in front of 109 E. Franklin St.). I stopped by there earlier and was so excited to meet some of the undergraduate masterminds behind the parklet and to hang in the space. One thing I realized is that parking spaces are huge – this particular parklet takes up 2 parking spaces, and there’s a whole picnic table, sets of couches, minigolf, some other chairs, and a chessboard game in there now. You could comfortably fit about 20 people, and that’s incredible compared to two empty cars just sitting there normally. Check it out for yourself! Stop by, say hello, and enjoy the space. Update: If you missed Park(ing) Day in Chapel Hill or want to learn more about how it got set up, check out the Carolina Planning Journal’s Angles blog post on the subject.

If you’re not in the Carrboro/Chapel Hill area, use this map below to find the park nearest you.

Further thoughts on this topic: beyond the scope of this particular post, I’d like to have a conversation about whether money-making is really the best way to drive the decision-making around the use of our public space for parklets vs. for parking. When you think about it from a social welfare or health benefits point of view, there are clear arguments in favor of parklets and not parking. But in a capitalist system the best way to convince people that something is “good” for them or that it “should” be done is to show them that it will make them more money. So that’s how we end up with studies showing increased sales from walkers & cyclists instead of drivers. Businesses do generally end up supportive of Park(ing) Day, as shown in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood, for example. Three local businesses are sponsoring parklets in front of their establishments.