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Parking spots transformed into mini-parks, each with its own message, on Park(ing) Day



Last modified: Sunday, September 20, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — Anyone passing in front of City Hall or the Unitarian Society on Main Street perhaps thought there was a farmers’ market happening Friday. Four blocked-off parking spaces were filled with flowers, pumpkins, bales of hay, and baskets of vegetables and bread — and volunteers who were welcoming passersby in from the sidewalk.

They took over the parking spaces for Park(ing) Day, an international event during which people transform parking spaces into parks. The event began in San Francisco in 2005, when an art studio called Rebar put sod, a tree and a bench in a parking space to draw attention to the need for green space in urban communities.

In Northampton, volunteers from several different religious institutions set up shop in the parking spaces to spread another message. “The theme is rest, renewal and rejuvenation,” said Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, the pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church. Also, she said, “care of creation” — taking care of the Earth and everything on it.

“In the middle of the hustle and bustle, it’s an oasis of peace and renewal,” Ayvazian said.

The interfaith group encouraged people passing by to stop, chat, and take a blessing — written on a scrap of paper — or a cherry tomato grown at Abundance Farm at Congregation B’nai Israel. In one parking spot, massage therapist Patty Gates guided a woman through calming breathing and gave her a relaxing massage.

Ayvazian and Congregation B’nai Israel Rabbi Justin David said participating in Park(ing) Day was an idea voiced at one of the regular meetings among the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities. Events that get them out in the public are a great chance to meet new people and strengthen existing connections.

Visitors who stopped by the spots included Mayor David J. Narkewicz, Police Chief Jody Kasper, and staff from the parking clerks’ office.

Groups took over parking spaces in several other cities and towns around the Pioneer Valley Friday, including Amherst and Greenfield. And like the group in Northampton, those who occupied the mini-parks saw the event as a chance to send a message — in addition to the original meaning of the day.

“Park(ing) Days in different cities have always had their own flavors,” Ayvazian said. “Ours has a particularly spiritual bent.”

In downtown Amherst, a group of landscape architecture students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst set up a park with plants loaned from the Hadley Garden Center. They also built a display of balloons and signs aimed to demonstrate how a bioswale — a planting of water-loving trees or plants to aid in slowing and filtering surface runoff water — would keep the pond cleaner on the campus.

“The theme for this year was green infrastructure,” said Andrew Woodward, a senior at UMass. He is a member of the Boston Society of Landscape Architects Student Chapter, which put together the display in an East Pleasant Street parking spot in the area of Kendrick Park.

He said the group saw Park(ing) Day as an opportunity to show the community what landscape architects do, and also promote their idea that a bioswale could help clarify runoff water in Amherst.

Surface water in downtown Amherst, including oil and other pollutants from cars, currently runs downhill to the area of Kendrick Park, Woodward said. A drain — right next to the parking spot they took over — collects the water and filters it to a degree before releasing it into Tan Brook.

Woodward said the brook is underground and most people are not aware it exists. It carries the water to the pond at UMass, bringing with it some of the toxins collected downtown, he said.

Woodward said planting a certain vegetations in its path would slow down the flow of the water, allowing more dense metals or other substances to settle out, and allow the plants to absorb toxins out of the water.

In illustrating their message, the students represented the polluted runoff by writing the names of contaminants on black, gray and yellow helium balloons and tying them to parking meters uphill of their parking space, which represented the bioswale. Downhill of the spot, clusters of bright blue balloons labeled H2O bobbed in the breeze. A circle of blue balloons represented the cleaner campus pond.

“The town does have plans to redesign Kendrick Park,” Woodward said, and he hopes they will consider the concept of a bioswale.

Woodward said a rotating group of landscape architecture students occupied the space from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and explained the concept to many people who stopped to ask what they were doing.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.