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From Parking Space to People Space

Volunteers building temporary curbside parks in Coolidge Corner as part of national Parking(ing) Day.

If you're driving through the traffic logjam of Coolidge Corner next Friday, don't be alarmed if you see someone lounging on a patch of grass by the curb, their toes dangling in a shallow pool.

The water, lawn and the earth you see will have been trucked in that morning for a temporary one-day "park" slated to be dismantled before the day is over. Part of a national movement called "Park(ing) Day," the project will occupy a total of four parking spaces on Sept. 17 and is meant to emphasize the amount of public space devoted to the storage of private vehicles.

"Wouldn't it be nice if there was a little bit of public gathering space in Coolidge Corner? And wouldn't that enliven our commercial area and give us a sense of community?" said Linda Pehlke, an urban planner and organizer of the event who has often pushed the town to rethink its parking policies. "That's where we're coming from. We want to have more people space."

The Park(ing) Day movement began in 2005 when a design studio called Rebar created a temporary park in a single parking space in San Francisco. The concept immediately hit a nerve among urban-minded artists and advocates, who embraced the project and helped it grow to include some 700 temporary parks in 41 cities, including Boston, during last year's event.

In some communities, the parks are erected guerilla-style and moved every two hours to stay ahead of authorities. But in Brookline, Pehlke said she found a surprising ally in Todd Kirrane, the man in charge of managing traffic and transportation issues in town.

When Pehlke came to Kirrane and suggested that he should let her use one parking space for her project, he challenged her to fill four.

"When she was looking at locations, my thought was that, of course, prime time Coolidge Corner, right in the hear to the largest commercial district where we have the most pedestrian vehicle and bicycle traffic, would be the best place to showcase it," said Kirrane, who served as the town liaison for the project, getting the other town departments on board with the idea.

Kirrane said he's been watching the growing popularity of Park(ing) Day around the country and was eager to help out when Pehlke approached him about the project. He said the event's message is in line with the Brookline Transportation's goal of considering all forms of transportation users, including pedestrians, when designing improvements for Brookline's streets.

Brookline's Park(ing) spaces will be erected on either side of Harvard Street adjacent to the crosswalk near Green Street in Coolidge Corner. Adjacent to the Coolidge Corner Theatre, one metered spot will be adorned with a picnic table and games bordered by a fence of linked bikes and flowers, while a second spot used for a small outdoor theater showing a documentary film about streetscapes that have been turned into park space around the country.

On the opposite side of the road, two spaces will be lined with sod, plants, sand, beach chairs and umbrellas around a long, shallow pool. Pehlke hopes passersby will stop to lounge on the grass and, if it's warm enough, dip a toe in the pool.

The two "parks" will take up two parking spaces each and measure eight feet by 36 feet. The sod, plants and even the trucks used to move them have all been donated by local businesses and the town.

The project is a collaboration of the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, Brookline Garden Club, Livable Streets, WalkBoston, Brookline Park's Department, Brookline Transportation Department and Transportation Board.

While Pehlke would like to see more "people space" in Brookline, she said the one-day parks aren't meant as a criticism of the town's planning process or its park system. She just wants people to think about the potential held by each patch of public concrete.

"It is about painting a vision, but it's not about being critical of what they've done so far, because it's difficult," she said "It's like showing what the dream is, that you really can do this. I guess we're planting a little seed here."

Lauren Kanzer July 03, 2011 at 02:15 PM
I was recently looking to buy a condo/apt. in Brookline and decided against it for one main reason....the off street parking laws! Nearly all rear yards that should be green space and places of respite are now parking lots! In my opinion, there should be resident parking and guest parking allowed overnight on the roads and all the backyards should be turned back into their originally intended rear yards. Brookline parking laws have ruined the views of all rear yards and instead created most unpleasant eyesores and lack of trees and clean air! There should be a town movement to restore rear yards and allow parking on the streets where all cars belong! Does anyone else out there agree? Please send me your thoughts to laurenkanzer@comcast.net Brookline is drowning in rear yard parking lots! Also, where can an overnight guest park? Most inconvenient and forcing only more parking lots to be needed...not less!
Milorad Bursac November 14, 2011 at 08:32 PM
I agree!

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