Fifty years ago, Joni Mitchell first sang “they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.” Now, Montreal has an annual event that brings a little bit of paradise back to the parking lot.
This year’s PARK(ing) Day took place on September 19, kicking over 200 cars out of their regular spots. Taking their place were arcade games, libraries, fruit stands, barbecues, musical acts, drum sets, and a variety of other interactive installations and activities.
PARK(ing) Day takes place in 162 cities around the world, with the goal of transforming spaces usually taken up by cars into fun, productive, and artistic environments. By showing the multitude of different events that can occur in just one parking spot, PARK(ing) Day explores both the endless potential of the streets of Montreal and the immense amount of wasted space taken up by parked cars.
This year marked Montreal’s third PARK(ing) Day, an event which first took place in San Francisco in 2005 when Rebar – an art and activist organization – created a two-hour public park in a metered parking spot. Now the event is organized locally by the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal, an organization concentrated on the protection of the environment and promotion of durable infrastructures in Montreal.
PARK(ing) Day encourages people to rethink how our public space is used, while simultaneously promoting public transit. The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) directly supported the latter goal, handing out free one-day metro passes and fake parking tickets promoting “Car Free Day” on September 22. As the representatives of the STM explained to passersby, one bus is equivalent to fifty cars and can save around three blocks of space that cars would otherwise occupy. STM’s installation featured a lounging area with couches and games, a mini library, and a fruit stand with free apples and plums.
The reclaimed spaces spanned many neighbourhoods and featured creative activities and activism from many of Montreal’s nonprofits. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society took up two parking spots, promoting the preservation of Canada’s wilderness. Blouin Tardif Architecture-Environnement, a Montreal architecture firm, set up tubes of various sizes and provided drum sticks for people to create music together. Projet Sainte-Catherine Ouest created a photo gallery featuring streets in different cities around the world, where gallery organizers encouraged people to submit ideas for how to change St Catherine to optimize roadway space.
Also among these installations was the McGill Spaces Project, a student organization that strives to draw attention to the often-overlooked value of public spaces, while also reshaping underused spaces on campus into fun and spontaneous ones. The organization transformed parking spaces by the Milton Gates with simple feats like a game of bocce ball, a chalkboard for sharing ideas, wooden chairs to paint and decorate, and free hot dogs, providing a space for relaxation amidst the bustle of students travelling to and from class.
Living in a city means dealing with limited amounts of space, whether that means being stuck in traffic, waiting in a long line, or living in close quarters with other people. PARK(ing) Day demonstrated the importance of using space in productive ways, and also promotes the engagement of all residents in urban planning and environmental activism. Both interactive and accessible, the event provoked attendees to imagine how urban communities can be reconstructed to be environmentally friendly, artistic, and spatially conscious. PARK(ing) Day doesn’t simply ask us to better conserve space – it pushes us to expand our view of what an urban community can look like.