WalkBike Worcester challenges the community to revision public space

By FALPC Intern, Jacquelyn Burmeister

This Friday, September 19th, between 2 and 7pm, five parking spaces on Main Street, Worcester will be transformed into public parks.

WalkBike Worcester (WBW), a work group of the Food and Active Living Policy Council, will be hosting the City’s first ever Park(ing) Day in front of Theatre Café, in the downtown.  WBW, Earn-A-Bike, Theatre Café, Reliant Medical Group and The Department of Public Health will all be participating by turning a metered parking space into a public park for the community to enjoy, and to remind people of the possibilities for the utility of public space that is traditionally used for cars.

Park(ing) Day is an international event that calls for people to revision public space.  Many cities in the world have a dearth of green space, and instead expanses of public parking.  The idea behind Park(ing) Day is for the public to reclaim these spaces for leisure and learning.  Over the past few years, there have been several Park(ing) Day demonstrations in the Boston Area, but 2014 will be the first year that the celebration comes to Worcester.

Park(ing) Day began in San Francisco in 2005, when an Art and Design studio called Rebar decided to transform a metered parking spot into a public park for the day.  They laid down some grass, a potted tree and a bench inside the confines of the painted lines, and feed the meter for two hours.  Today, more than 160 cities in 35 countries celebrate Park(ing) Day.  The mission has expanded beyond just creating green space as well.  Cities are using this metered public space to address other city needs, such as public health, equity and water rights.

With the upcoming earmark for the expansion of Main Street, one goal of the Worcester Park(ing) Day is to remind people just how little space is necessary to give a biker safe passage, and encourage a choice in infrastructure that will promote safe bike riding and walking.

Another goal of the event is to vitalize the downtown area.  Karin Goins, the cofounder of WBW, says that, while the Worcester Downtown has offered more opportunities for locals to go out and mingle, such as movies on the common and cultural festivals, it could be so much more. WalkBike Worcester aims to create “a sense of place” for Worcesterites by making the downtown a more attractive area to spend leisure time.  Karin states, “we want to make the Downtown a destination”.

Theater Cafe Google

On Friday, September 19th, these five parking spaces in front of Theatre Café will be transformed into public parks where the community can come to learn and play.  Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

In Worcester, the parking spaces will contain a variety of community activities, such as blood pressure tests and bicycle tire-patching demonstrations, as well as the traditional tree and bench style park space.

Kt Kennedy is a member of WalkBike Worcester and one of the event coordinators. “We wanted to take these spaces, and show people what we can do with them, even with just 8 and a half feet”.

While new to town, Kt is an avid bicyclist, and has high hopes for the biking and walking infrastructure in Worcester.  When she heard of the event in Cambridge she thought, “this would be a great way to get people out to enjoy a public space”.

She presented the idea to WBW and her and Nicoal Price, another member, proceeded to begin coordinating the event.  While many first-time celebrators have only used one parking space, they decided to go above and beyond and request five from the City.  Their eagerness was rewarded.  After some phone calls, they received the permits and already had five interested parties to host the spaces.

Interestingly, in some cities, the use of public parking spaces is restricted to cars.   However, the City of Worcester was open to the idea of permitting full public use of the spaces, and the only hesitation was for how to proceed, since no one had ever proposed to use parking spaces in this way before.

The five spaces selected for the event will be in front of Theatre Café, located between Federal and Franklin Street.  While many restaurant owners would be annoyed to have their prime parking spots occupied for the day, owner Bill Aldrich is said to be very excited for the cause.

Make sure you come down to Theatre Café this Friday to take back your public spaces and enjoy a new (and temporary) Worcester Park!  The events start at 2pm and go until 7pm.

For more information on Park(ing) Day, see the website.

For more information on WalkBike Worcester click here.

Check out Theatre Café’s Facebook page here.

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9/16/2014 3:23 pm: Correction.  While Kt Kennedy and Nicoal Price are the main organizers of the event, Karin Goins was the visionary that presented Park(ing) Day as an idea for  WBW.

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