Parking for people, not cars

A busy street in downtown Baltimore might be the last place one would expect to see a bocce game going on.

But just before noon Friday, with traffic rumbling by, Nicole Reedy and Jeff Stump squared off for a friendly match on a swath of grass laid down where cars would normally be parked in front of their office on West Franklin Street. A few feet away, co-workers and clients chatted while sipping wine and soft drinks under a green-roofed lean-to.

It was another PARK(ing) Day — an annual event held across the planet to promote creation of more open space in urban areas. Here in Baltimore, activists, artists and landscape architects converted curbside parking spaces in six different locations around the city into pocket parks, covering asphalt with turf and plants.

"The goal is really to show people what even just a little green space can do to the city," said Joan Floura, co-owner of Floura Teeter, a landscape architecture firm that took over three spaces in front of the Franklin Street business.

The idea began in San Francisco five years ago, but has since morphed into a global DIY phenomenon. Floura said this is the second year her business had taken part. This time, said co-owner Aaron Teeter, the staff added a lean-to with a green roof to demonstrate the energy-saving and pollution-absorbing technology the company has been helping put on buildings around the area, including the Baltimore Convention Center.

Those who wanted to put a little green in the street for the day had to pay for the privilege, because it's illegal in the city to occupy parking spaces without a permit. In addition, because they're on a commuting route, Floura Teeter couldn't set up until after 9 a.m. and had to clear out before the afternoon rush.

Even so, Floura says, "we got a few dirty looks" from passing motorists. Most, however, simply looked surprised to see potted plants, grass and a lean-to in the street.

Darrell Hall, for one, was impressed. The 56-year-old, who lives in an apartment nearby, said he'd heard about it and walked over to check it out.

"It's nice," he said. "In certain areas like right here, it's cool for people to sit out and talk." He said he was going to go home and get his grandchildren, to bring them back and see it.

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