PARK(ing) Day comes to Westbrook

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WESTBROOK — People passing through downtown Westbrook this weekend will see some unusual activity in space in the 800s block of Main Street usually reserved for parked vehicles.

On Saturday, Sept. 22, from 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., Discover Downtown Westbrook is hosting the city’s first PARK(ing) Day, a nationwide effort that once a year transforms parking spaces into small urban parks.

“It’s been going on for several years nationwide and we’ve talked about it in the past and wanted to try to make it happen this year,” said Discover Downtown Westbrook Director Abigail Cioffi, the event organizer.

The idea, she said, is to spur a conversation about “how space is being dedicated downtown to vehicular use and how we can transform space  – temporarily or permanently to pedestrian space or at least shared more equally” between people in cars, on bike or on foot.

The effort began in 2005 when Rebar, an art and design studio in San Francisco transformed a single-metered parking spot in the city’s downtown into a temporary public park. 

According to the PARK(ing) Day website “paying the meter of a parking space enables one to lease precious urban real estate on a short-term basis. The PARK(ing) project was created to explore the the range of possible activities for this short-term lease, and to provoke a critical examination of the values that generate the form of urban public space. Our original PARK stood in place for two hours – the term of the lease offered on the face of the parking meter. When the meter expired, we rolled up the sod, packed away the bench and the tree, and gave the block a good sweep, and left.”

Over the last 13 years, PARK(ing) Day, held on the third Friday in September, has expanded to communities across the country and the world.

Cioffi said the downtown space will be covered in sod and blocked off with bollards, and there will be places for people to sit and enjoy a bite to eat.

Portland has been holding the event for several years, allowing businesses to adopt spaces temporarily for creative uses during the event.

“The idea is to maybe grow into something like that,” Cioffi said.

When the Westbrook event is over, the space will revert to its original and intended use.

“Our intent is not to make any sort of permanent installation,” she said.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Park(ing) Day started in San Francisco in 2005 (above) to demonstrate the need for public open space in the city’s downtown and has, over the last 13 years, spread to communities all over the world. Discover Downtown Westbrook is bringing the event to the city for the first time this year. 

A parking space on Exchange Street in Portland is transformed into a social space as part of 2016 PARK(ing) Day. The event is intended to challenge people to rethink the public spaces of streets and reinforce the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure. Westbrook is holding its first PARK(ing) Day Saturday, Sept. 22. 

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