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People are often encouraged to “think outside the box” when they want to stimulate creative thinking. A group of San Antonians took that a step further on today, Sept. 27, by thinking outside the parking spot at the city’s first observance of PARK(ing) Day.
Along a two-block stretch of Main Street between Pecan and Houston Streets downtown, nine parking spots featured more than just cars or trucks. There was art, play, education and laughter.
This was the inaugural event for San Antonio, according to Meagan Wright, Special Projects Manager for the Center City Development Office. PARK(ing) Day began in San Francisco in 2005 and has spread to cities worldwide. While San Antonio’s first event was relatively small, it has the potential to grow – Philadelphia’s streets see the transformation of more than 45 downtown parking spots into “parkettes.”
“We hope that people use this event to think about space in the downtown area in a different way,” Wright said. “Yes, parking is an important component of downtown, but we want to think differently about how we utilize the space and make sure it’s maximized since land downtown is at a premium.”
The exhibitors took that advice to heart and made the most out of their spots. Mary Compton and Miki Rubio from the Children’s Museum offered an “Imagination Playground,” featuring a lesson in science and an assortment of giant building blocks.
“We’re using dry ice bubbles to teach kids about states of matter,” said Rubio, the museum’s Special Events Coordinator.
Compton, the director of Group Sales and Marketing, said the building blocks were part of one of the museum’s latest exhibits.
“It’s a great way for parents and kids to engage with one another and do team building,” she said.
At the SA2020 spot, Molly Cox, chief of engagement, had an enthusiastic team stopping passers-by, encouraging them to pledge a goal for the betterment of San Antonio. In return, they received a packet of wildflower seeds.
“The idea is to watch the flowers grow as our city grows,” Cox said. She added that PARK(ing) Day was a perfect complement for her group’s goals.
“We’re all about downtown development, neighborhoods and environmental sustainability, and we’re supporting all three of them right here,” Cox said.
Michelle Garrigan, director of special projects at the Southwest School of Art, said their spot offered a “surrealistic social” setting for the interactive projects.
“When we discussed what we were going to do here today, we knew we wanted something participatory and interactive,” Garrigan said. “It evolved over a couple of meetings.”
Garrigan’s team offered to take participants’ photos wearing a top hat and holding a bright green apple, and encouraged them to upload the photo to Instagram. They also had a colorful assortment of markers where artists of all ages could draw their portion of what was known as the “exquisite corpse.”
One of those artists was Ed, a 50-something-year-old who lives in the nearby Robert E. Lee Apartments on Travis St. He laughed as he drew the brightly colored clawed feet of the corpse.
“This is more fun than playing with my cat,” he said, “but don’t tell her that.”
Ed said the drawing was therapeutic.
“It took me back to being a kid,” he said. He paused and took a deep breath.
“I’m disabled. I had a really rough doctor’s appointment earlier this week and I gotta be honest, I was kinda in the blues before I came down here,” Ed said. “This was just perfect. I wish the city could reach out to people like me more often. We don’t have enough events like this, places we can play. Things like this are worth more than money.”
In addition to the parking spots, food trucks were parked at the Little Patch Garden at Salinas and Main, and the group Grooveline played music to the lunchtime crowd. Other exhibitors included the San Antonio-Bexar County MPO, the Office of Sustainability,Downtown Alliance and Centro San Antonio, artist Mark Gelatt, artist Rex Hausmann,Artpace, and Yelp San Antonio.
The City of San Antonio PARK(ing) Day was a joint venture with the Center City Development Office and Downtown Alliance/Centro Partnership. While the main intent was education, the event also offered the spirit of competition. Three judges – District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, Assistant City Manager Ed Belmares and Zachary Marr from Alamo Music Center judged the parking spots and recognized the three top spots.
Third place went to Artpace, second to artist Mark Gelatt and the coveted golden parking meter trophy for first place went to SA2020.
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“Paying the meter of a parking space enables one to lease precious urban real estate on a short-term basis,” states the event’s official website. “The PARK(ing) project was created to explore 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.”
Annette Crawford is a public affairs officer at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. She is also the house photographer for the Majestic Theatre and Sam’s Burger Joint & Music Hall. You can read her music and travel blog at www.thegroovygringa.com or follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @thegroovygringa.