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baltimoresun.com

Initiative gives new meaning to 'park' in a parking space

Firm to turn two spaces on The Avenue into a park café for one day

By Larry Perl, lperl@patuxent.com

September 13, 2011

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Motorists looking for a place to park in the 800 block of West 36th Street on Sept. 16 will find a cafe where two public parking spaces should be.

The local landscape architecture and urban design firm Mahan Rykiel Associates is taking over two adjoining spaces on The Avenue and plans to turn them into a cafe — just for the day.

Mahan Rykiel is participating in "Park(ing) Day," a global initiative by San Francisco art and design firm Rebar to "transform metered parking spots into temporary parks for the public good."

It's a global effort "to draw attention to how to use open space in urban areas better," said Mahan Rykiel marketing director Cynthia Fraser said.

Mahan Rykiel is designing a "dog-friendly cafe" in a park-like setting with some tables and chairs, grass sod over the asphalt, and a "green wall" made of plants, Fraser said.

Treats for dogs and snacks and refreshments for humans will be on hand, Fraser said.

"It's supposed to be whimsical but also draw attention to urban open space," she said.

Only three or four tables and a few chairs are planned, Fraser said.

"It's not a whole lot. It's just the idea," she said.

Rebar started Park(ing) Day in 2005, converting a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco, according to Rebar's website, http://www.parkingday.org.

The project has since spread to 180 cities in 30 countries, according to Fraser.

"Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world," Rebar says on the website.

"The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!"

Participating for the first time, Mahan Rykiel is paying Baltimore City $60 to use the two spaces for the day, Fraser said. Hoods will be placed on the meters, taking them out of service for the day, she said.

Mahan Rykiel is purposely using two parking spaces at 832-836 W. 36th St., outside ARTblocks, a nonprofit that helps area communities create plans for public spaces, said Katie Vocke, a landscape designer for Mahan Rykiel.

Mahan Rykiel is already heavily involved in urban space usage in the city. The firm did an open space master plan last summer for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, which aims to create a more vibrant downtown area.

On The Avenue, Hampden's main commercial corridor, "we really want to show the (urban design) opportunities that streetscape holds," Vocke said.