A play on words became a place to play last Friday as Park(ing) Day turned metered parking spots on Peabody Place downtown into miniature parks.
According to their website, "PARK(ing) Day is an annual open-source global event where citizens, artists, and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into 'PARK(ing)' spaces: temporary public places."
Cat Peña, coordinator of public programs at Memphis College of Art, helped bring the international event to Memphis for the first time.
"I heard about Park(ing) Day and used it as an example in my public art class," Peña said. "My students have always expressed interest in doing something like that here."
So how was Peña able to coordinate the event this year? "There's just a new feeling in Memphis about how public space can be engaged," she said.
The types of parks were as varied as their organizers: The Downtown Memphis Commission set up the Pooch Pub, which offered treats and water for dogs and a place for Real Good Dog Rescue to showcase their adoptable dogs.
UrbanArch Associates assembled a giant wooden jigsaw puzzle and invited local graffiti artists to decorate it, giving a demonstration of their posted credo: "Graffiti is art."
BRG3S Architects set up what seemed to be the most popular park: A homemade "Teeter Tire" teeter-totter made of a tractor tire, a wooden plank, and two car seats.
Crosstown Arts, the organization working to bring the Sears Crosstown building back to life, set up a library complete with a rug, chairs, coffee, food, books for sale, and people to "check out" for conversations. Conversationalists included the current caretaker of the Sears building and an unofficial historian who spent 22 years working in the building.
Norbert, the stuffed bison mascot of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, was set up in one park for photo ops. In other parks, a roller derby member skated around a tiny rink and belly dancers showed off their moves. A small beach with lounge chairs and a television broadcasting images of the ocean was set up next to the Flying Saucer.
The transformation was a bit bewildering to some downtowners, who looked on from a safe distance.
"I don't know that people know that they have permission to be a little silly," Peña said.
But it didn't take long for people to warm up to the teeter tire. In no time at all, grown-ups could be seen flying through the air, neckties aloft, taking a chunk out of their lunch break for a little recess.
Tanja Mitchell, neighborhood coordinator for Uptown, was thrilled to see the participation: "I think we should do this every month."