Park(ing) Day & Environmental Justice

by the Environmental Justice PPN Leadership Team

Community League of the Heights (CLOTH)’s Open Street in New York City / image: Gloria Lau, ASLA

With Park(ing) Day—this Friday, September 17, 2021—just days away, leaders from ASLA’s Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN) have shared their experiences with Park(ing) Day, how they have highlighted environmental justice issues through their parklet designs, and their thoughts on Park(ing) Day as a platform to address environmental justice.

Chingwen Cheng, ASLA
PPN Officer and Past Co-Chair
Program Head and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture + Urban Design + Environmental Design, The Design School, Arizona State University

Park(ing) Day started by responding to a lack of people-centered urban design and automobile-driven urban development. Transforming a parking space to a park space is a statement to advocate for inclusive and people-centered design. Many neighborhoods in Phoenix have experienced inequitable distribution of open space and urban tree canopy, resulting in vulnerable conditions under extreme heat and divergent health outcomes. Park(ing) Day provides a space and time for landscape architecture professionals and educators to get together and advocate for creating quality environments for all.

Arizona State University’s Landscape Architecture program participated in Park(ing) Day 2018 in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. / image: Lora Martens, ASLA
image: Lora Martens, ASLA

Michelle Lin-Luse, ASLA
PPN Co-Chair
Landscape Architect, Hollander Design; organizer with Design as Protest; member of the Design Justice Network

What I love about Park(ing) Day is that it flips the script on how we can reimagine our cities and approaches to transportation infrastructure. It is well-documented that communities of color and low-income neighborhoods are disproportionately burdened with environmentally hazardous facilities and infrastructure, including highways. Furthermore, these communities tend to lack green infrastructure, like trees and adequate greenspaces, making this an environmental justice issue. It would be great to see more landscape architects organizing Park(ing) Day actions in collaboration with community-based organizations working in environmental justice areas. Park(ing) Day, while impermanent, is a fun way to occupy auto-centric spaces and reimagine them as lush, people-centric places.

Flanked by bikes and pollinator-friendly plants, the Pollinator Park(ing) Day successfully claimed space away from cars. / image: Tom Martin, ASLA

Tom Martin, ASLA
PPN Officer and Past Co-Chair
Junior Project Manager, SmithGroup

A few years back, while working at a design firm in Chicago’s dense River North neighborhood, co-workers and I used Park(ing) Day as an opportunity to secure space from cars and reclaim it in the name of pollinators. Included in our installation was information on food reliant on pollinators, types of pollinators, and pollinator fun facts. We also handed out packets of pollinator-approved plant seeds. Folks who participated added a bee pin to our pollinator network, as we promoted creating your own urban pollinator garden. Park(ing) Day is a wonderful opportunity to reclaim space and promote sustainable systems for folks across all cities.

Participants indicated where they planned to plant their pollinator garden, creating a pollinator network. / image: Tom Martin, ASLA

Hannah Leung
PPN Officer
Designer, Coen+Partners

Park(ing) Day began with the intention to share with the world the idea that design opportunities are boundless, and consequently challenge the norms of urban planning. It has since evolved into a source of inspiration and a show of resilience against auto-centric and gentrified development. Direct products of past Park(ing) Days include spaces of leisure, or ones that host inclusive and equitable services, like café seating or free health clinics. On the other hand, Park(ing) Day has also inspired nonprofit organizations, such as Better Block Dallas, to activate underutilized spaces into community engagement projects. While Park(ing) Day is about providing a temporary physical space for design and various forms of creative experimentation, it is also, to a greater extent, a means of exploring and advocating for community-driven urban design within and beyond the typical 10 x 20-foot pocket of space.

Community League of the Heights (CLOTH)’s Open Street in New York City / image: Gloria Lau, ASLA

Gloria Lau, ASLA
PPN Officer
Senior Landscape Architect, Stantec

Park(ing) Day has always been an opportunity to reimagine streets beyond a thoroughfare, as public and community spaces beyond cars. The need for streets to be well designed public spaces became much more pronounced during the pandemic. In New York City, sidewalks have become essential outdoor spaces, especially in neighborhoods that lack green spaces because of systemic land use and policy decisions that underserved low income and Black and Brown neighborhoods. The city’s Department of Transportation reacted with two programs, Open Streets and Open Restaurants, to reclaim streets for communities and restaurants affected by the pandemic.

The past year, my colleagues and I at Stantec partnered with a community group to close three street segments for summer play in the neighborhood of Washington Heights. We worked closely with the Community League of the Heights (CLOTH), who has been dedicated to the neighborhood for 66 years, through the Neighborhoods Now initiative organized by the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute. CLOTH wanted to make the streets open to children and residents in July and August to increase access to play and fitness during the pandemic. After selecting three appropriate streets together, Stantec developed site plans for the Open Streets applications and an online survey and drawing exercise to gather programmatic ideas from the community. We also designed marketing materials to help spread the word. For two months, the community was able to reclaim streets as their own space to play, read, draw, and gather.

image: Gloria Lau, ASLA

For more on Park(ing) Day, see ASLA’s LAND newsletter and THE DIRT for “Pandemic-era Street Spaces: Parklets, Patios, and the Future of the Public Realm,” an article by John Bela. ASLA, co-founder of Rebar, the creators of Park(ing) Day.

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