MPC Research Assistant Ariel Ranieri authored this post.
That picture up above? It is a people spot.
It used to be parallel parking in Andersonville. Actually, it used to be my personal preferred parallel parking space in Andersonville, which is ironic, considering I’ve been encouraging exactly this sort of behavior for the past three months:
A people spot (or in cities like San Francisco, where they have proliferated, a “parklet”) is a tiny park plunked down in a series of “repossessed” parallel parking spaces. Much like a park, it is open to the public and allows for the free and organic flow of community activity. This trial run in Andersonville has an herb garden along the perimeter and a small hill – well, at least a “hill-let.” A group of Kickstarter backers and nonprofit organizations chipped in to cover the $15,000 price tag, according to eco-andersonville.org and the Chicago Tribune. Three more spots around the city complete this year's trial run, with many more planned for 2013 by the project's own kickstarter, the Chicago Department of Transportation.
In San Francisco the parklets are year-round. Thanks to Chicago’s weather, Andersonville’s people spot is predicted to stay open through November (they’re feeling optimistic).
I’ve never been much for parks. I like to have a trajectory, and parks require much more of a “sit and enjoy” frame of mind that I look forward to cultivating in my old age. That said, I was in the neighborhood, waiting for my dance class to begin, and it was a beautiful day. This parklet-people-spot-thing seemed like a better place than my dance studio to kill 10 minutes, so I bought a scone from a café down the street and parked myself for a bit.
I came, I sat, I enjoyed.
And I guess that was the point. Here was I, generally zipping from car to studio and back again, confronted with something outside the ordinary. Instead of a place to park cars, this was a place to park people. Thanks to this people spot, not only had I stopped to make a local purchase, I had taken time to look around a bit. Akira, for example, was having a sidewalk sale. The furniture shop down the way caught my eye with its customary street-side markdowns.
People refer to “the art of Placemaking.” I’ve always thought of art as the relationship between artist and artwork, so I guess that makes Placemaking the art of community. We tend to exist via text and Twitter these days. We cram our days with activities then wonder where the time went. Community has, in its own way, become an art.
I hope Chicago develops more people spots. Maybe what we need is to park our cars less and ourselves more.