A 2013 PARKing Day site in Market Square

Every year PARK(ing) Day encourages residents to question the framework around them by turning metered parking spaces into temporary parks.

Now, to be fair, Pittsburgh has long converted parking spaces into ad-hoc living rooms with the tradition of the Pittsburgh Parking Chair. But PARK(ing) Day Pittsburgh, now in its seventh year, goes further than just holding your spot.

Henry Pyatt, Small Business and Redevelopment Manager for the mayor’s office, says the point of PARK(ing) Day is to shake things up.

“To me it’s all about obliterating people’s assumptions about how public space can be used. Everybody has assumptions based on the experiences they’ve had and that’s fine. We’re humans, that’s what we do,” he says. “But if we’re going to improve, and allow ourselves to come up with new methods to be more efficient or more equitable, then we have to get rid of our assumptions.” He adds, “We want to open people’s minds about what’s feasible.”

Now an international event, PARK(ing) Day has San Francisco roots. When Rebar Art & Design Studio, a firm that has since closed its doors, decided to convert a parking spot into a park in 2005, the mission was to generate debate about public space, how it’s created and allocated, and how it’s used.

Thor Erickson, Programs Manager at Design Center and part of PARK(ing) Day’s all-volunteer organizing committee, says Pittsburgh’s event has evolved to help people engage with those questions.

“We’re really testing out the idea that where our spots are located could be converted into a future use that is greater than the current use,” he says. “Instead of just doing a space–a table, a couple of lawn chairs–it’s activating [the spaces] and making them more engaging.”

A collaboration on the entire 800 block of Liberty Avenue will feature giant games of chess, Jenga and Connect-Four, wayfinding lawn furniture and greenery; Lawrencevillians can play 18 holes of mini-golf organized by Christov Churchward along Butler Street; Mayor Peduto and City Council members have donated their parking spots to make a beach.

It’s important to note that PARK(ing) Day is not an attack on cars. Instead, Erickson says, it’s an opportunity to study how people use a space at different times of the day and then consider how to blend those uses together. Sitting at a table in front of Nicholas Coffee Company downtown, Erickson used Market Square as an example.

“You’ll notice there are no curbs,” he said, pointing to the three-inch strip of grey stone that demarcates the edge of the cafe space, level with the street. “The next step here would be to remove cars at lunchtime. It happens during high-traffic events: it’s a pedestrian area only and because there are no curbs there’s the opportunity to really fulfill the space. And then when it’s less active, the cars can come back and park.”

Erickson adds that for the first time this year the Parking Authority is a registered participant.

“They’re really committed to having fun, reusing public space and not being anti-car or pro-car but really, pro-person.”

Because despite the proliferation of coal-rolling videos, using a car and enjoying the outdoors are not mutually exclusive. People like parks and green things. Judy Wagner, Senior Director of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s Community Gardens and Greenspace Program, says PARK(ing) Day was a natural extension of their mission to contribute to the vitality of cities and towns through promoting the living landscape.

“Our team focuses on human communities. This was a way to continue that process of surprising people into thinking about these hardscapes differently,” she says. “It’s nice for us to remind people that with a little effort, a little greenery can go a long way to change how your day feels.”

The 38 registered participants who will roll out some 19 different parks for your Friday enjoyment are doing so on a limited budget. The cost of securing a parking space for the day is $30 downtown, $20 in Oakland, or $10 anywhere else in town, but the Parking Authority is waiving that fee for registered participants. Many partners are donating materials or their time. The most significant investment will be man hours.

Wagner says that investment in PARK(ing) Day can generate tangible change. Two new WPC projects downtown resulted from a PARK(ing) Day interaction.

“Who knows what seeds will be planted for next year?”

For a full list of participants and where to find them, Design Center created an interactive Google map. Most sites will be active from 9am to 3pm, though some will begin or end earlier.

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.