If you’ve ever spent time circling the blocks of downtown New Orleans to find a parking space instead of coughing up the price of lunch to park in a commercial lot, the idea of purposely taking some of those precious parcels of real estate out of commission for a day might sound a little crazy.
But what if those parking spaces were transformed into miniature parks where you could hang out on a swing set, hop on some psychedelic lily pads or simply rest a spell and watch the world pass by?
That’s the concept behind PARK(ing) Day NOLA, a one-day event in which eight metered parking spaces along Julia Street from Convention Center Boulevard to St. Charles Avenue will be transformed into 7-by-20-foot “parklets” designed by a mix of artists, designers, architects, urban planners and civic activists.
“It’s a fun way to demonstrate the many different ways we can reclaim public spaces,” said Marcella Del Signore, Tulane architecture professor and project coordinator, adding that PARK(ing) Day NOLA also represents a collaboration between several New Orleans civic organizations including the Downtown Development District, the New Orleans Arts District Association and the Tulane City Center outreach program.
An international project established in 2005, PARK(ing) Day takes place in dozens of countries and hundreds of cities worldwide every fall. The project will be returning to New Orleans this year after previous installments in 2011 and 2012.
“In other parts of the world, PARK(ing) Day usually takes place the third weekend of September,” said Del Signore. “But this year, we wanted it to coincide with Art for Art’s Sake, so it made sense to move the date and see how it worked out.”
The idea of repurposing overlooked public spaces in New Orleans through interactive public architecture might already be familiar to local audiences.
The fondly remembered Des Cours project, which was sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and ran every December from 2008 to 2011, involved often fantastical installations in dozens of out-of-the-way commercial and residential buildings in the French Quarter and CBD.
Not coincidentally, Del Signore was also a participant in Des Cours. “I love working with public spaces, and both Des Cours and PARK(ing) Day have been interesting ways to explore that research,” she said. Del Signore will be co-designing a space in this year’s PARK(ing) Day as well.
Among the spaces you’ll encounter in this year’s PARK(ing) Day NOLA is a swing set designed by a team including local bike advocacy groups Bike Easy and Ride New Orleans.
Their vision invites frazzled commuters and passers-by to “take a breather pre-, post- or mid-commute” on the swings and enjoy “an exciting interplay between the sidewalk and our ‘park’.”
Another parklet, designed by architects Cordula Roser-Gray and Alfia White, involves a small-scale maze interspersed with native plants, bringing a touch of the experience of getting lost in the swamps to Julia Street (minus the danger of running into an alligator).
The wetlands are also the inspiration behind Ginette Bone and Mia Kaplan’s “Swamp Retreat,” in which lily pads floating on a reflective Mylar surface and multicolor towering sculptures promise to “capture the experience of lush bayou vegetation.”
And a colorful installation incorporating more plants and repurposed storm shutters, designed by an 11-person team including the proprietors of Central City’s Casa Borrega restaurant, will create “a vivid stormwater management exhibition that is aesthetic, educational, engaging and vernacular.”
The schedule of the PARK(ing) Day installations gives a new urgency to the term “pop-up”: Del Signore explained that since the required city permits are only valid for 24 hours, teams will have just 12 hours to construct their installations and four hours to dismantle them.
The PARK(ing) Day spaces will be open to the public from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4.
“I think people will really enjoy the spaces,” she said. “I hope it becomes an annual tradition.”