Park(ing) Day in North Orange County: A New, Welcome Experience
Lynk Gibson, 7, grabbed a thick blue marker from a bin and started drawing onto a board with a footprint outline while his 4-year-old brother Nolan looked on at his side. Krystin Gibson, the boys’ mother, handed Nolan a marker and directed him where to draw.
The boys gravitated toward a jenga set nearby, while staff from RSM Design played along with them. They were playing in the street, in what is usually a parking spot for cars, but on Saturday was carpeted with green turf and benches, creating a space for people.
“I’ve never experienced something like this in person,” Gibson said.
Downtown Garden Grove held its Park(ing) Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, converting roughly five parking spots into parklets in downtown.
The event was organized by Alliance for a Healthy Orange County as part of its Active Transportation Leadership Program, an immersive set of workshops and community activities aimed at encouraging and training residents to become advocates for their community’s needs. International Park(ing) Day takes place on the third Friday of September–September 16 this year–but AHOC’s event took place on the weekend to allow Anaheim High School students to attend, said Rebecca Cousins, policy analyst for AHOC.
Residents from ATLP’s three city groups–Anaheim, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana–worked with consultants and AHOC staff to design and build parklets in Garden Grove. AHOC allocated $3000 for permits, materials, and marketing.
It was the first time many of the people–passersby and ATLP participants alike–had ever seen or experienced a parklet. Vanessa Ureno, a sixteen-year-old junior from Anaheim High School, said that she had never heard of a parklet prior to going to one of the planning meetings, and that even when described to her it was difficult for her to visualize what it could be.
“It’s a good place to hang out and create a good environment to walk by,” she said as she played Loteria with her Anaheim High School classmates.
The parklet activities were popular with children, especially the community painting board and chalk street drawing area. Margarita Solis, a Garden Grove resident, stopped by the parklets while she was walking through downtown with her three children. As her children were drawing on the ground with sidewalk chalk, Solis remarked that, aside from the nearby park and programming at her children’s school, there are not many other accessible recreational activities for her children. Having these kinds of kid-friendly amenities, Solis said, allows them to express their emotions and relax.
Each city’s representative parklet took on a its own meaning. Garden Grove residents asked for one that reflected their city’s ethnic diversity, its park space, and issues around accessing it. Santa Ana residents wanted to highlight its history through its buildings, while allowing people to dream about what the city could be.
Ureno and others in the Anaheim group wanted to reflect the Mexican community and their celebrations, so they created a photo booth with cutouts of calaveras, or skulls, with a serape as a backdrop. Ureno and her fellow classmates made homemade aguas frescas and offered it to passersby along with pan dulce, or Mexican sweet bread.
“A lot of people were asking where [the parklets] would be,” Ureno said when she told her friends and family about the parklet in Anaheim. “They said it would be nice to have it in Anaheim as well.”
AHOC staff and consultants met with community groups prior to Saturday to get their feedback on what kind of theme and design they wanted for their parklets. Yolanda Sepulveda from RSM Design helped the Garden Grove group with their parklet, Peter Quintanilla from PlaceWorks assisted residents from Santa Ana, and Matt Benjamin from Fehr & Peers helped the students from Anaheim High School.
City representatives, including candidates for Garden Grove city council, visited throughout the day. Garden Grove’s City Manager Scott Stiles stopped by in the morning with his daughter. “We like the idea in that we want to engage our streets,” Stiles said of the feasibility of these kinds of projects in Garden Grove. “This is probably just a small piece of the puzzle on how it gets into everything else we might want to do.”
This year’s North Orange County Park(ing) Day event was planned only as a pilot project, said Michele Martinez, AHOC executive director. But, having an annual event in this format would still be considered in the future, she said.
Business owners slowly gravitated to the parklets through the day. Krystin Gibson, co-owner of a tattoo and gallery space on Main Street, said that she would like to see a permanent parklet on Main Street as long as it was maintained. “It’s a different feeling sitting here, surrounded by plants,” Gibson said.