PARK(ing) Day: Streets for people

On Friday, September 20th, Richmond will join the rest of the world in celebrating PARK(ing) Day. Parking sucks, so why are we celebrating it? Well, this is PARK(ing) Day, not Parking Day. The former is an international event where folks transform horrible parking spaces into wonderful, temporary parklets for people, while the latter is…not a real thing (at least we hope not).

This year, Venture Richmond (spearheaded by our very own Max), has taken Richmond’s previously limited (but still cool!) PARK(ing) Day efforts and kicked them up a notch. We’ll have not one, not two, but 23 parklets spread across different parts of the city.

BAM!, as they once said.

PARK(ing) Day is great but, unfortunately, oh-so-temporary, which is why we’re stoked on the addition of a competitive aspect this year. About half of the groups creating parklets on Friday have opted-in to a design/build competition judged by Ryan Rinn (formerly of Storefront for Community Design), Emily Smith of 1708 Gallery, Nathan Burrell of City Parks and Rec, and Yessenia Revilla who manages the City’s parklet program. The winning group will win a nice little chunk of start-up capital and the chance to work with Venture and the City to make their temporary parket a permanent place for people to hang downtown. This new, permanent parklet would be the first to take advantage of the City’s parklet program and serve as an example for other aspiring mini-park designers.

Why does all of this matter? Because cities are, ultimately, for people not cars. So much of our Downtown is taken up by parking decks, parking lots, parking spaces, and so little space—especially Downtown—is dedicated towards giving people a humane place to simply exist. PARK(ing) Day is important because it gives us a visual reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way! In fact, it’s pretty easy to take back some of that space and make our city a more comfortable, liveable, and fun place to be.

You can check out a map of all PARK(ing) Day locations here and find a bit more information over on the Facebook event page. If you’d like to spend some time touring the parklets, check out Bike Walk RVA’s parklet bike tour or hop on the Pulse, which rolls by a by a handful of parklets at the Scott’s Addition, Arts District, and Main Street Stations. It’s against the rules to drive on PARK(ing) Day.

We are all diminished by one

Last week, a woman was murdered by a person driving a car through Shockoe Bottom in Richmond. In this case, the vehicle was the murder weapon.

Shiauna Harris was arrested on Friday evening for the act of killing Shanice Woodberry and injuring three other people, and she will be charged with homicide. Also last week, the neo-Nazi driver who killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville two years ago was sentenced to life in prison. Justice will be done in both of these incidents, but this is not always the case when a car is involved in killing a person.

Too often, as we have seen in New York City with the recent death of Richmonder Robyn Hightman, the claim of “I didn’t see them” is excuse enough for many people—including law enforcement—to shrug off a fatal crash as an “accident.” This is a terrible and all-too-common occurrence. And it’s not just in bustling cities like New York City where bikes and cars rub up against each other for space. A 30-second search of last week’s crash-related news pulls up stories of a woman who ran over a man who was trying to keep her from driving drunk and a truck that spun out of control and smashed into a house with a person inside. This is by no means a comprehensive list—that would probably require a full-time intern to compile—but they are examples that pose important questions about the threat we invite through the unregulated use of cars in our cities.

Is it okay that nearly anyone over the age of 16 can get behind the wheel of a machine that in one instance can be used to drop the kids off at school and in another instance can kill dozens of people within seconds when accelerated into a crowd of people? Or that someone can simply lay down in a street that was intentionally designed to move a lot of cars real fast and commit “suicide by car?” Is there a gun comparison to be made here? What do you think, reader?

More children and teens die from traffic-related crashes in America per year than from guns, and yet we have a liberal blind spot when it comes to car culture. It’s a blind spot that prevents our elected officials from doing anything truly meaningful to regulate the unsafe use of cars and the unsafe design of the streets on which we drive them. Can you name one U.S. mayor who has decided to take a stand against traffic violence in their city and put extremely effective and politically risky measures in place to eliminate traffic-related deaths?

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney is currently pushing for a ban on guns in city-owned buildings and parks. At what point do we start pushing for greater regulation of cars in an urban environment to achieve #VisionZero? What would that look like? Perhaps it would look like putting some political muscle behind the idea that cities should—in some form and in some settings—#BanCars.