This article originally appeared in the Bangor Daily News.
PORTLAND, Maine — Think it’s hard to find parking in Portland? Wait till Friday.
A slew of artists, designers and architects are taking the streets back for PARK(ing) Day one spot at a time.
The goal: to demonstrate alternative visions for civic spaces taken for granted by a car culture.
For the second year in a row, Portland will participate in the worldwide event where metered parking spots are temporarily turned into parklets, lounges and community zones for the day.
“The idea is to foster discussion on how we use our public space and how much is dedicated to people, cars and housing,” said Sarah Schindler, an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Law who is orchestrating PARK(ing) Day in Portland to explore “all the different possible ways we could use space owned by us.”
So far, seven spots are slated for transformation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On Congress Street, The VIA Agency will change a spot and a half into an art and copy garden outside its headquarters. There will be typewriters, so “people can bang away,” and easels with canvases and paper to encourage creativity, said Stephen Davis, a senior copywriter for the advertising agency.
In addition to working outdoors with co-workers and meeting neighbors, the goal of the interactive space is to inspire “new art pieces, beautiful poems, whatever people want to write,” said Davis, who set up a lounge with Astroturf and hip furniture for the event last year. “We want people to be more involved this time.”
And so does Abby King at the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. Around the corner, the organization is taking over two spaces on Preble Street to spread the word about commuting by bicycle.
There will be an outdoor living room where people can eat their lunch, and a bike repair station for safety checks, said King, the coalition’s community advocacy coordinator.
But hands down, the highlight will be the bicycle-powered milkshake machine. Free shakes and tuneups for all.
“It’s a fun way to demonstrate what kind of alternative uses we can think of. And think about our streets as community spaces,” said King. “This 8 by 20-foot piece of pavement has a lot more function than just storage for an individual car.”
And for the coalition that encourages people to leave their cars at home, the event is a perfect opportunity to raise awareness.
“It’s a great way to let people know we are here in Portland and this is what it’s all about,” said King.
It’s also a good way to promote a new business. The Portland Gear Hub, a new enterprise that will rent and sell low-cost skis, bikes and outdoor gear is setting up outside Nomads on Commercial Street.
This venture, which is set to open in the basement of the YMCA in October, debuts at PARK(ing) Day. It’s supported by the Community Bicycle Center in Biddeford and Camp Ketcha in Scarborough.
“It’s a wonderful way to get folks out and talking with each other, making sure that we are connecting with our community and are aware of our sense of place and our surroundings,” said Brooke Burkett, who is spearheading Portland Gear Hub.
Her parking spot will have a tent with Adirondack chairs fashioned from old skis, and a stack of outdoor magazines to get people in the mood to get outdoors.
“These spaces will allow people to take a breath during the day. It’s a parking space but something else is happening,” said Burkett.
Taking over valuable parking space may sound contradictory in an “open for business” economy, but companies such as Nomads are sponsoring the parklet outside their door. And city officials are on board.
“We have over 1,500 metered parking spots; in the big scheme of things it’s not a big impact,” said John Peverada, the city’s parking manager. “There were some complaints last year, but it was minimal.”
And with the recent announcement that a portion of Congress Square Park is being sold to private developers, the concept of communal space is all the more pertinent. On Friday, The VIA Agency’s park will sprout just a block away from Congress Square.
“They are shutting down the public park in Congress Square, so this is a way to have more public spaces,” said Davis. “It’s a nice thing to do.”
The deadline to participate in PARK(ing) Day is Wednesday at 12 noon. To sign up for the event, email Sarah Schindler at firstname.lastname@example.org.