“The vast majority of outdoor urban space is dedicated to the private vehicle, while only a fraction of that land is allocated to open space for people.”
Among the most innovative ways to turn hardscape into green space originated in 2005 at Rebar, a San Francisco design studio that addressed San Francisco’s lack of public green space by turning a single metered parking space into a temporary public park downtown.
Feeding the meter for the two-hour slot, Rebar installed a patch of grass, a park bench, a tree and signs directing people to come sit and relax. Rebar created a manual on how to create pocket parks out of existing urban-use space. The concept became Park(ing) Day, an annual worldwide event that inspires municipalities to participate.
In Birmingham, Park(ing) Day is held on the third Friday in September. This year marked a permanent installation on a quarter-block of 20th Street North. The installation includes reclaimed pedestrian space, multi-modal street design, flexible use seating and new landscaping.
The installation serves as a test site for what can be done along the rest of 20th Street North to help the street function as an asset to local businesses, as well as people who work, live and dine downtown, explains landscape architect Paige Ishmael of Dix.Hite + Partners.
Temporary paint was used to create a bike lane and a flex loading zone in the streetscape. Former parking spaces were brought up to grade to create an expanded patio space complete with new planters and furnishings.
Plant beds and planters have been updated with native, low-maintenance species consistent with plant types at other downtown public spaces. New bistro chairs and tables increase seating and provide more comfort and flexibility than concrete benches.
The sidewalk’s former loading zone now offers additional public space for people to move about. The space has been filled with crushed limestone to increase sidewalk width and allow for drainage.
The right lane of 20th Street has been temporarily designated as a flex loading zone, allowing it to be adapted to different uses such as a loading zone, valet parking or food truck parking. Between the flex loading lane and the car travel lane, a new bike/scooter lane provides additional ways to enjoy the newly designed 20th Street. The flex loading zone and multimodal lane separate pedestrians further from traffic.
This year’s installation was made possible by the Alabama Chapter of ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects), partnering with REV Birmingham and the city of Birmingham. Vulcan Materials and Hunter Trees donated supplies and plant material, and Shelby Construction donated time and labor.
ASLA spearheads Park(ing) Day nationwide through its local state chapters. Alabama’s installations are usually in Auburn, Birmingham and Huntsville. Though anyone is welcome to participate in the event, landscape architects have the skillset to help cities reimagine streetscapes through design.
“The essence of Park(ing) Day is to reimagine streetscapes which prioritize vehicles, and reclaim them as a park or public space,” Ishmael says. “Almost every city in America, including Birmingham, could benefit from more bike lanes, better pedestrian connectivity, and more public outdoor spaces for the health of its citizens and businesses. The recent pandemic has really shown us the importance of outdoor space on so many different levels.”
*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong & Images courtesy of Dix.Hite + Partners