On Friday, September 21, Greenbelt Alliance transformed a metered parking space in Downtown San Jose into a pop up park for PARK(ing) Day, an international event during which artists, advocates, and residents challenge the status quo of urban land use and inspire passersby to stop and make some art, strike up a conversation, play an instrument, or just enjoy a sliver of public open space normally reserved for a car.
For one afternoon, a 144 square foot plot of asphalt became a calm, green oasis and art studio where people could express themselves and share what they love about San Jose. Home Depot and SummerWinds Nursery generously donated a garden of plants that separated us both physically and mentally from the cars, buses, and trains that bustled along San Fernando and Second Streets. Artists drew portraits, text clouds, cartoons, parks, cats, and more using the supplies that we had set out. Even those who claimed to have no artistic ability participated by taking a load off in one of our comfy chairs and chatting with us about life in the Bay Area.
“Excuse me,” asked one passerby. “You must know something about plants. I have a question about a plant in my home that is proving difficult.” While I did not have the answer, a cyclist who had stopped by our spot did. The plant in question was an orchid, and yes, they are indeed tricky. Helpful advice and botanical education ensued.
Our park provided an opportunity for strangers to come together and exchange ideas. Shade from mature trees overhead invited pedestrians seeking a comfortable seat to talk on the phone and attracted cyclists in need of a water break.
Most visitors contributed some form of art that we displayed as a visual conversation web about the unique beauty, culture, and needs of San Jose neighborhoods. By the end of the day, we had an eclectic collection of portraits, poems, and doodles. More than just expressions of joy and frustration with San Jose, the web revealed a deep desire in people to connect with one another. We encouraged loitering and exploring, two instincts often suppressed during the typical workday, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
Many people, including a San Jose fireman, expressed their desire to see this happen more than once a year. Greenbelt Alliance would love to see San Jose create pop up parks of a more permanent nature. While this spot would soon go back to holding an empty, parked car, for those few hours, it was a place for people to come together.
Thank you to all those who stopped by to say hello—you made working on a Friday feel like a day in the park!