A walk in the park: how Chicago celebrated PARK(ing) Day 2011 - Metropolitan Planning Council

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A walk in the park: how Chicago celebrated PARK(ing) Day 2011

PARK(ing) Day participants celebrate by turning gray to green! Positioned right in front of Southport Café, the park in Lakeview enabled customers to dine and socialize in a lively and aesthetically pleasing outdoor environment.

MPC Research Assistant Jason Brown authored this post. Pictures by MPC Research Assistant Kirsten Westergren.

Chicago’s skies provided little incentive to get outside for PARK(ing) Day, but ready and raring to advocate for green public space, organizations around Chicago were out on the street transforming everyday asphalt into creative temporary parks – and we were there to hear what these advocates had to say!

As promised in our PARK(ing) Day intro post, we celebrated the day in Chicago by adventuring to a handful of temporary parks that sprouted up in parking spots the across the city. Our first stop was to Buttercup Park around 9 a.m.; unfortunately, it must have been too early for the Buttercup crowd because there was no sign of them! A little discouraged by our first visit, fellow MPC Research Assistant Kirsten Westergren and I took off on the Brown Line to Southport, where moss Design had promised bike repair and live music…


Pedal to the People stationed itself right alongside moss Design’s Southport Avenue park and offered bike repair services all day long, further encouraging the use of eco-friendly transportation.

And, they followed through! Taking up about six parking spaces on Southport Ave right in front of Southport Grocery & Café, moss Design had a complete park with sod, picnic chairs, and hay bales, as well as musicians arriving for the first of a few live sessions, and even a mobile bike repair cart. Moss has been participating in PARK(ing) Day for three years now, specifically advocating for extension of green space and sustainability. Winners of the Lakeview Master Plan bid, moss is a popular design firm in Chicago that has even bigger dreams for the city. Laura Cripe from moss expressed that she would love for participants of PARK(ing) Day to line Southport in green next year, to fix Chicago’s eye on green space. This year, Laura and colleagues were joined by Adam from Pedal to the People, a mobile bike shop that takes repairs on the road, ready to repair any needy drive-by bikers and advocate for a greener Chicago, one pedal-er at a time.


With enough sod to occupy four parking spots and create hilly terrain, UIC students ensured that “Pop-Up Park” did exactly that—against the gray and bleak concrete backdrop of the lot, the park truly “popped” with greenery.

Our third stop was the University of Illinois Chicago campus to see what the Urban Planning and Policy students were up to. Though it took a little while for us to find them, a couple of students were hanging out in a four-spot park in a campus parking lot. Sod laid over street salt blocks created a hilly topography, inviting passers-by to come and enjoy a cup of lemonade, a brownie, and a game of beanbag toss. The materials (as well as the four parking spots) were donated to the students for the day by campus recreational and parking services, who are advocates for the cause as well. To help with transportation, the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s I-GO car share allowed use of a pick-up truck for the day (which also was a handy way of advertising, as at least one person stopped by to ask about the program while we were there.) The students present have been celebrating PARK(ing) Day for a few years, and hope the tradition will continue. There has been a general acceptance of the project by the community, even though students passing by often didn’t know what to do with the space, while a few took the dare and approached, and most passers-by just, well, stayed curious. Another park could be found in the center of campus run by the Office of Sustainability, but we were off to Logan Square!

Equipped with yoga mats, Urban Habitat Chicago’s park appealed to the more actively-inclined, who showed up throughout the day to join in on free yoga sessions.

Standing out as an oasis of green on the gray day,  Urban Habitat Chicago had set up a great park on the corner of Milwaukee and California, complete with sod, yoga mats, bike repair, and what UHC’s Lee Bouchard called “prairie bouquets”, the pyramid-shaped decorative floral bookends to the park seen in the pictures below. Furnished with sod from Home Depot and potted plants from the advocates’ living rooms, UHC’s park showed again the benefit of community partnerships. At the end of the day, the sod would go to a local school or Boys & Girls club to keep the green spirit alive. When you weren’t sitting in the surprisingly serene park on the curb of Milwaukee, you could be stretching with the well-attended yoga sessions held throughout the day, taught by Tula Yoga Studio, just across the way. Lee noted, too, that the park ended up being a great play place for parents and their young ones, though literally feet from moving cars. Lee has been working with UHC for three years, and hopes that the efforts of PARK(ing) Day make an impression on the city’s future planners and designers. “We’re in need of cool urban planners,” she says.

Architecture for Humanity drew in passersby from great distances with the colorful and grandiose structure of its park in Logan Square. Complete with a projector and screen, people were encouraged to stay late for a seven o’ clock “film in the park.”

Though we had anticipated visiting only one park in Logan Square, we were quite happily surprised to see another park, just down the block from UHC’s, run by Architecture for Humanity Chicago. Flanked by an eye-catching structure of plant-filled painted cans hanging from wooden beams, AHC’s park, carpeted in sod as the others, had more of an arbor feel, inviting you into an outdoor green space. AHC’s park was also the longest-standing park, opening at 7 a.m. and promising to be open “late into the night,” with a movie provided on a small sheet screen on the far side of the park. Architecture for Humanity Chicago itself is an interesting organization, most recently involved in the retrofitting of Fresh Moves’ mobile produce store that services Chicago’s food deserts. AHC provides design services to communities, nonprofit organizations, families and individuals that generally cannot afford other design services.

Well, PARK(ing) Day proved to be quite the adventure! It was fascinating to see how many public space-minded organizations across the city come out and advocate in amazingly creative ways. It was also encouraging to see many similarities between the various places; advocating for open, green public space was often partnered with promoting biking, healthy and sustainable living, and community partnership and cooperation. While we look forward to seeing longer-standing Placemaking efforts spring up from vacant lots and unused asphalt around the city, we believe that these spirited acts of creativity and advocacy are a great start to churn the public’s and city’s mind towards planning better public spaces.


  1. 1. Vauvan Nenä from Helsinki on September 29, 2011

    Nice Park(ing) Day :)). People need to ride bikes more, instead driving all the day, because the polution is a little bit high. Best regards and good post !

  2. 2. Jon from Hartford CT on September 30, 2011

    Excellent article. Very inspiring for other cities around the country as well.

  3. 3. www.mobilemovielinks.blogspot.com on December 5, 2011

    i agree with Vauvan nena

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