By Nick BeJeaux
“We have this need for more parks and communal spaces within the fabric of our urban landscape. We’re going into these places that are just asphalt with no design to them. They haunt our urban environment because they don’t provide any quality of life. We need to have a critical debate about the design of our community, and we want the community to participate, hands-on.”
Parking in Baton Rouge is nothing to brag about – even less so is the quality of our public parking lots.
But this Friday, drab concrete, gravel, sand and trash will be replaced with verdant plants, colorful decor and vibrant people during PARK(ing) Day, a global movement for urbanites to learn about and participate in their city’s development. But PARK(ing) Day isn’t some lame town hall meeting or forum in a windowless room in the bowels of some bleak government building.
“Typically people are invited to engage in the planning process, but that process is broken,” said Camille Manning-Broome, Senior Vice President for Planning and Implementation at Baton Rouge’s Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX). “We’re asking people to come to a room and help make decisions on these grand schemes that they may not completely understand, nor do they understand how these changes get into policies or programs. Instead, we should talk to people about incremental changes and how things affect their neighborhood, their block – the specifics of what they see and do every day.”
PARK(ing) Day delves into those specifics by bringing the discussion to the neighborhoods, rather than the other way around. Volunteers and hosts from businesses and institutions across the city will occupy and transform select parking spaces throughout the downtown area from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to show the potential that empty urban space has.
“We want them to come to this more tactical space and say ‘Okay, we have this overall issue with parking’ or, ‘We have this issue with urban design,”’ said Manning-Broome. “We have this need for more parks and communal spaces within the fabric of our urban landscape. We’re going into these places that are just asphalt with no design to them. They haunt our urban environment because they don’t provide any quality of life. We need to have a critical debate about the design of our community, and we want the community to participate, hands-on.”
Physically transforming a space only a few car lengths wide is much more tangible to the average Joe than talking about a 15 year plan, according to Manning-Broome. Project Manager at CPEX Tara Titone, like Manning-Broome, sees the potential of PARK(ing) Day to solve problems caused by inefficient parking designs, like stormwater runoff, but also sees room for aesthetic improvements as well.
“Instead of seeing a parking space in front of a building, we can show a meeting place where people can be right out on the street,” she said. “In another instance that could mean just mean a better circulation of people. Adding more street trees can help with the aesthetics and with the stormwater issue. It should be beautiful and functional.”
In the occupied lots, volunteers will be demonstrating just how efficient using stones, absorbent pavement, or trees can be at combating problems like excess stormwater while also looking awesome. But even if support of these new ways to improve BR’s urban landscape catches fire, one would think there would be miles of government red tape to cut through. According to Manning-Broome, that’s turning out to not be the case – thought it will still take time.
“We are very excited because our planning commission is working on updating ordinances and the urban development code and we have the DDD working on parking regulations in the downtown area,” she said. “It’s really a way to push the envelope and show the public that just because we don’t have the resources right now doesn’t mean we can’t act on something. These are very important discussions; they demonstrate to people how valuable replacing lots with communal areas can be, but also that taking a parking spot off Third Street isn’t going to be the end of the world.”
So far, sixteen locations will be occupied on PARK(ing) Day, Friday, Sept. 19, across BR. For the list of locations, visit Facebook.com/BetterBlockBR.