Parks pop up on Commercial Street

The City of Nanaimo will host its first Park(ing) Day on Commercial Street, Sept. 19.

Connor Goertzen

Connor Goertzen

Nanaimo organizations are looking to give people another reason to park it on Commercial Street.

The City of Nanaimo is staging its first-ever Park(ing) Day this Friday (Sept. 19), a global event to show how ordinary parking stalls can be transformed into temporary public plazas.

According to Chris Barfoot, the city’s culture and heritage coordinator, the idea started as an activist movement in San Francisco in 2005 to show alternative uses for car-only spaces. Now communities worldwide use the day to animate asphalt stalls.

In Nanaimo, six organizations will take up the challenge, with plans to create an outdoor yoga studio, a children’s park and a mini library. Groups will have 60 minutes to build a public space, which will be open for two hours – the same amount of time vehicles are allowed to use the stall.

“What we hope to do here in Nanaimo … is to encourage people to look at spaces in a different way and to see the possibilities of how they can be animated and ways that we can create these really interesting, inviting cultural spaces,” said Barfoot, adding gathering spaces don’t have to be huge parks or permanent structures and can be spontaneous.

“A gathering place could be something temporary, it could last two hours, it can last one week … but what it does is serves that purpose of being that gathering place.”

The city’s parks, recreation and environment department plans to take up two stalls for an interpretive park and children’s playground for the inaugural Park(ing) Day. Recreation coordinator Gillian Goerzen has collected all the supplies, from Astroturf, to a slide, wading pool and basketball hoop. “Hopefully it all fits,” she said, chuckling.

She calls the event a neat idea. It never dawned on her that parking vehicles in prime real estate downtown “is kind of silly.”

“The concept behind parking day [is] really to shed light on how we could maybe better use prime space … that is more conducive to being interactive and provides greater benefit to the community than parking a vehicle,” she said.

Corry Hostetter, executive director of the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association, says for businesses directly in front of parking spaces, traditional use of the stalls can mean four people every two hours, but a miniature park could draw four to 15 people over the same amount of time. The association will be showcasing an idea for a ‘parklet’ at the event, as well as creating its own temporary space.

The event will take place along Commercial Street from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.