Soaking up the sun on the last Friday of summer, a handful of friends enjoyed the balmy weather for a few hours in a pair of parking spots converted for the day into a 200-square-foot park.
Green carpet tile covered the asphalt on this patch in Jackson Ward as people sat on chairs and other furniture they bought online or brought from home. Soon, a crew would finish putting up the wooden beams holding together a cozy porch swing and hanging white curtains around them.
Parking spaces throughout Richmond were transformed into 22 tiny parks Friday, inviting people to take a moment to rest and reflect or hang out with friends and neighbors during the day.
Organized by Venture Richmond in observance of International Park(ing) Day, various businesses volunteered to transform part of the street in front of their shops for a friendly competition intended to raise awareness for the city’s parklet program and get people thinking about how public space is used.
An eclectic mix of installations were scattered around the city, with designs emulating front porches, gardens and spooky scenes from Edgar Allan Poe stories — just in time for the start of autumn on Monday.
“We’re meant to be in green spaces. I always walk down to City Hall just to be near trees during my lunch break. It renews your soul,” said Dana Herrault, an interior designer with the firm Walter Parks Architects.
Outside of their offices on North Adams Street, the firm’s architects created their own front porch, complete with a swing, fringe curtains and a small outdoor table where people were gathered, talking and laughing late in the morning.
“Human interaction is good,” Herrault said. “This invites people to talk to each other and unites our community in ways that it normally wouldn’t.”
“I think it just makes you feel better. It de-stresses you,” Sarah Grady, an assistant costume designer at the Virginia Repertory Theatre, said about turning the parking spaces into tiny parks. “This is a bit of whimsy to brighten your day,” she said after snapping a picture of the Poe park in front of Visual Arts Studio on Broad Street.
Others created spaces intended to open up dialogue about issues, such as homelessness, or gave people a blank canvas on which to draw or write whatever they wanted.
On Main Street in Monroe Ward, the advertising firm Elevation partnered with Virginia Supportive Housing to create a parklet that looked like the frame of a home with a park bench, a grocery store shopping cart and detritus surrounded by messages about homelessness.
Aaron Dotson, principal and creative director for Elevation, said his team had thought about how parks are often used and had wanted to help a nonprofit the firm has worked with in the past.
“It struck us that for far too many people in our community that a park is a home,” he said. “We thought it was a good opportunity to use our parklet to raise awareness of the work that Virginia Supportive Housing is doing and to help people in the community understand that a park doesn’t have to be a home.”
While other organizations have worked with the city in recent years to observe Park(ing) Day — which was created in San Francisco in 2005 — Venture Richmond officials organized this year’s event to promote its mission to make city streets “more vibrant and interesting,” said Max Hepp-Buchanan, the advocacy group’s director of riverfront and downtown placemaking.
“Especially in a downtown urban environment, it’s hard to find space to sit, decompress, drink coffee or visit a friend,” he said. “I know it’s important for people to drive where they want to go, but it’s also important for people walking around to have a space to enjoy their city.”
The city began piloting a parklet program in 2016 to allow property owners and businesses to apply to create temporary parklets on public rights of way. Hepp-Buchanan said there were no parklets in the city before the ones put in place for the day Friday, but hopes the event encourages people to consider applying to create new ones.
Venture Richmond will work with Walter Parks Architects, the winner of the competition, to help create a parklet somewhere in the city and will give up to $5,000 to assist the winning firm in designing it and getting the city’s approval.