Parking spots are notoriously hard to come by in some parks of Honolulu. But on Friday, an array of designers, artists and activists took over four of the city’s scarce public parking stalls and turned them into something more: miniature parks designed to make people rethink the city’s public spaces.

One park, in front of the Lucky Belly restaurant in Chinatown, was filled with synthetic turf and coastal plants designed to mimic the elevations of the area’s mauka-makai orientation.

Staffers from PBR Hawaii & Associates created this parklet as part of PARK(ing) Day, a worldwide event where community members temporarily transform metered public parking spaces into miniature public places.

The idea was that streets don’t have to be so automobile-oriented, said Elena Chang, a planner with PBR Hawaii, and that there’s potential to transform them into more livable spaces.

Worldwide PARKing Day Sept 16 'Mauka to Makai' by PBR Hawaii display located near the intersection of Hotel Street and Smith Street. 16 sept 2016
PBR Hawaii created a space entitled “Mauka to Makai” with synthetic turf placed at different elevations. The display was located near the intersection of Hotel Street and Smith Street. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Until 4:30 p.m. Friday, the parklet provided some of the only seating in front of Lucky Belly for customers to wait and rest.  

“With the parklet, we want people to think about the value of a parking stall to see if it can be more than just a parking stall, to see if it can provide a greater good,” said Grace Zheng, a landscape architect with PBR Hawaii.

The intent was similar for HHF Planners, which created its “From Parking Stall to Paved Paradise” parklet in front of the company’s offices on Bishop Street. For about 13 hours on Friday, the planning firm’s parking space featured a seating area made out of recycled material and pallets that they used for last year’s event, said marketing coordinator Erin Higa.

The idea was to create an oasis. The 8-by-20-foot space was enclosed with dark wooden partitions and had a pair of umbrellas covering two seating areas. Native plants lined the borders of the space.

Worldwide PARKing Day Sept 16 HHF Planners public parking space entitled 'From Parking Stall to Paved Paradise. 16 sept 2016
On Worldwide PARK(ing) Day, HHF Planners displayed their public parking space entitled “From Parking Stall to Paved Paradise.”  Cory Lum/Civil Beat

According to Laura Comstock, a planner with HHF, parking stalls encourage urbanization and less space.

“So if you can transform a spot and encourage more public space, then we’re kind of encouraging more people to get out more, as opposed to just having cars parked everywhere,” she said. 

There were also two temporary parks in Kakaako: both on Auahi Street in front of Paiko and along the Ward Street intersection. One was named Paiko “Park,” the other “The Greener Reader Pop-up Library/Book Exchange.”

Push Design's mini park, called Paiko "Park," was located outside Paiko on Auahi Street.
Push Design’s mini park, called Paiko “Park,” was located outside Paiko on Auahi Street. Courtesy of Juliann Chen

PARK(ing) Day was originally conceived by Rebar, an art and design studio in San Francisco, in 2005. From there, it caught on, with 975 temporary parks in 162 cities in 2011, the last time Rebar kept track of the numbers.

By having temporary parklets, people can reimagine what public spaces can be, which some of today’s parklet planners say is important for an urban setting like Honolulu’s.

“You live in an urban setting and sometimes you just need to take a step back or find a niche,” Higa said. “And I think that public spaces and parks can really be that. So I mean even if it’s just temporary, it kind of reminds you that that’s possible.”

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