Saturday, September 19, 2009

PARK(ing) Day - challenges assumptions and sparks new conversations

September 18 is PARK (ing) Day. In cities around the world parking spots were “reclaimed” and transformed into public parks and social spaces. The annual event is all about bringing awareness and starting a provocative conversation on how urban public space is allocated and used. Started in 2005 by Rebar, an art and design studio based in San Francisco - a city where up to 70% of the downtown’s outdoor space is dedicated to the vehicle, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to the public realm.

As the group says “PARK(ing) Day challenges people to rethink the way streets are used and reinforces the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure”. "In urban centers around the world, inexpensive curbside parking results in increased traffic, wasted fuel and more pollution," says Rebar's Matthew Passmore. "The strategies that generated these conditions are not sustainable, nor do they promote a healthy, vibrant urban human habitat. PARK(ing) Day is about re-imagining the possibilities of the metropolitan landscape."

This very same question was pondered in 100 cities over four continents yesterday as artists, activists and citizens transformed metered parking spaces into public parks for a day. Over the four years of PARK(ing) Day, the conversation has extended to broader urban issues from public parks to free health clinics, from art galleries to demonstration gardens. PARK(ing) Day participants have claimed the metered parking space as a rich new territory for creative experimentation, activism, socializing and play.

While participation is focused on not-for-profit organizations, there are some commercial enterprises that did participate - businesses driven by a mission to change the world by offering earth friendly alternatives to common needs. One of these common needs is transportation. In Seattle, a “coalition” of transport groups leveraged the event to make people aware of alternatives to owning a car and promoting a healthier lifestyle. Living in the Pacific Northwest is all about access to the mountains. Zipcar was on hand to promote, in a very low key way, their solution as an alternatives to car ownership.

A two year old non-profit, was also out promoting the “undriver license”. Their goal is to reduce car use on the planet and saw the event as a way to playfully interrupt people’s assumptions and inspire them to think about other car-less options.

This is a great example of how genius can be found by re-imagining the obvious and challenging common assumptions. It’s also a wonderful example of guerilla marketing.

Whether you are a non profit or commercial venture, how can you rethink the commonplace into something that innovates or sparks conversations about your brand, mission or cause?

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