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How Washington Turned Parking Spots Into Public Parks

Local businesses got creative with event themes for Washington's Parking Day.

By D. Channing Muller September 25, 2014, 7:45 AM EDT

One parklet featured outdoor furniture from Design Within Reach, which was located nearby.

Photo: Sam Kittner

Last week, concrete spots in Washington turned from prime parking spaces into temporary pop-up parks featuring sponsored brand activations.

The September 19 event, dubbed Parking Day, was an offshoot of a concept that began in San Francisco in 2005 as a way for residents, designers, and businesses to collaborate to create temporary park spaces in traditional parking spaces. It expanded to Washington in 2009, according to Will Handsfield, transportation director for the Georgetown Business Improvement District, which organizes the event in the neighborhood. The project is citywide, but the largest concentration of “parklets” is in Georgetown.

“D.C. Parking Day gives flexibility in how the public can engage with that public space,” Handsfield said.

Last year, the group planned and set up several of the parklets, but this year it opted to support businesses that wanted to create their own spaces and offered tips on how to make the spots more engaging.

“We want the parklets to have an activated space,” Handsfield said. “Last year, we went big and had a lot of locations, but not all had a unique activity, so there wasn’t a lot of foot traffic at some. So now we’ve asked them to think through what people would do in their space.”

At a parklet for the modular carpet tile retailer Flor, staff created a colorful putting green from its own product and continued the theme by serving Arnold Palmers throughout the day. The restaurant Luke's Lobster created a ocean-theme sidewalk café in its space. Cut-to-measure sod defined the area, as did touches like floral planters and nautical rope. A chalk sign listed the event's social media hashtags.

The bakery Baked & Wired encouraged interaction by offering chalk for visitors to draw with on the pavement. Design elements included reclaimed railroad tracks and fresh plants and grass.

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