On the eve of Park(ing) Day 2012 I thought a brief look at what this event means to Ottawa would be fitting. First of all I think it is important to recognize that Park(ing) Day may be more relevant in some cities and less in others. This event questions the allocation of public space and the interventions highlight the potential uses of these spaces. In Ottawa this is especially important as the City works towards a more pedestrian and cyclist friendly city centre, but it also raises concerns about the process of becoming a less car oriented city.
A brief look at the Park(ing) Day Flickr gallery will provide considerable evidence in support of repurposing on-street parking spaces as public spaces for performance, play, or relaxation – there are many different iterations but I find that they all fall into one of those three categories. I also think that this is a direction that the City of Ottawa would like to head, and this is the value of Park(ing) Day installations. When people walk by, or, even better, spend some time at one of these parklets there are probably a few internal questions being asked, most likely “park or parking, which one do I like better?”
This question points to what, I believe, is the primary issue in play when discussing repurposing parking and offering it instead as public space. Citizens in Ottawa still rely heavily on private vehicles as a means of transit, especially those who don’t live in the city centre, so the idea of less parking is hard to conceive even if it comes at the expense of public space. Despite the Transitway, Ottawa’s public transit system still lacks the scale and efficiency of other cities that we may hope to emulate. It would be naïve and misguided to suggest that we can simply remove cars and create more public space without the necessary infrastructure already in place. The number of people that would have to make the shift from private vehicle to public transit warrants the question: are the current light rail proposals enough, or does Ottawa require a proper metro system for these ideas to be viable.
To spark your imagination, have a look at Modern Ottawa’s conceptual metro proposal. Would something of this scale alleviate enough vehicles to allow the City to reclaim some parking and truly explore the potential these temporary Park(ing) Day interventions promote?