GREEN CITY It's a typical San Francisco love affair: boy meets boy, they fall in love, and 18 years later, they get married. But not in City Hall, and not in a crowded banquet room with a dance floor and a DJ. Instead they wed in a 9-by-18-foot parking space in front of their home in the Lower Haight. No, they're not crazy. Just crazy in love with each other, and with PARK(ing) Day. On Friday, Sept. 19, Jay Bolcik and Michael Borden made both love affairs official.
(PARK)ing Day, a San Franciscoborn event now spreading around the world, takes place every September when people transform metered parking spaces into public parks or in Bolcik and Borden's case, a marriage locale for the day, or at least until the meters expire. The point? Event organizers say that more than 70 percent of San Francisco's downtown area is designated for private parking, and 24,000 metered spaces exist throughout the city. It's about time we reclaim the streets for the public, clearing more space where folks can gather to chat, make friends, and celebrate community parks. At least this was the thinking behind PARK(ing) Day when Bay Areabased art collective REBAR developed the idea in 2005.
"It was motivated by the spirit of generosity and public service," says director Blaine Merker, thinking back to when the group's artists stumbled upon a sunny spot that was perfect for a park, but dedicated for a vehicle, in November 2005. They plunked their change into its meter and built a grassy hangout, and as a result expanded the public realm for a whole two hours. "We provided an additional 24,000 square-foot-minutes of public open space that Wednesday afternoon."
The effect was outstanding, and the word about PARK(ing) Day spread to metropolitan areas across the globe. This year thousands of mini-grasslands and lounging areas proliferated in 600 vehicle-inhabited regions worldwide, including first-time participant the Dominican Republic.
San Francisco's metered spaces were filled with everything from a lemonade stand to a quaint outdoor living room setup, complete with a Scrabble board, a coffee table covered with magazines, and even a dog. "The meter man didn't know what was going on," says PARK(ing) Day buff Ariane Burwell. She spent the day on a 12-foot hunk of grass she'd purchased at Home Depot and stuffed into a Toyota Camry that morning before settling in Chinatown. Kid-size plastic chairs with the words "have a seat" on them lined her turf. Aware of the going rate for this precious real estate (25¢ for six minutes), some strangers dropped their extra coins into her meter as they passed. One Good Samaritan even went to the bank and brought back an entire roll of quarters.
Since 2005, San Franciscans have honored this unique holiday not only by creating minipublic parks but also by raising awareness about certain societal issues. In 2007, CC Puede, a grassroots coalition dedicated to making Cesar Chavez Street safe, used its PARK(ing) spaces on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Valencia streets to provide free food and health exams.
And this year, in light of the upcoming election, some activists even used their spots as political venues. Bolcik and Borden chose to marry in their PARK(ing) space because in addition to the fact that City Hall was booked they think it's part of a societal evolution that includes acceptance for same-sex marriage, which they hope California voters will affirm in November. Two No on Proposition 8 campaigners stood front and center at the ceremony, and many curious bystanders and media professionals were gathered along the sidewalk, which proved REBAR's point: (PARK)ing Day has become about more than making an individual statement.