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A green dream

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Parking Day? I snickered when I heard the name. What do people do? Go and park their cars to participate? Yawn. It sounded like a bureaucratic invention, a fake festivity meant to guilt downtowners into feeding the meters for charity.

I was wrong.

Park(ing) Day started in 2005 when a San Francisco design studio, Rebar, rented a metered parking space for two hours and set up a temporary park, complete with grass, trees and a bench. It was a small, artistic statement highlighting the lack of green spaces in the city. It was intended to be a one-off event, but once photos circulated online, requests for re-creations began to pour in. Instead of replicating their previous project, Rebar produced a manual telling others how to do it with their own flair. Park(ing) Day was born. It has since spread to every continent except Africa and Antarctica.

Vegas jumped on board this year, setting up mini-parks throughout downtown. Near Juhl, participants set up a yoga studio, lounge areas, bocce ball and putting greens. Outside the Regional Justice Center, UNLV students created a courtyard made of pallets. From a distance, the gatherings looked like a street fair, or like someone had unloaded a moving van and just decided to hang curbside for a while. Other micro-greens were set up at downtown FEED and the 18b Arts District.

Vegas’ participation was organized by Green Jelly, the group behind Build a Greener Block. In March, volunteers transformed Main Street just north of Charleston from a row of abandoned retail spaces into a temporary neighborhood, occupied by dream tenants like a community classroom and organic grocer. The group, which grew out of Vegas Jelly weekly tech meetings, seems to live by the motto, “Be the change you want to see.”

Park(ing) Day was Green Jelly’s second hands-on DIY event, and had a decent turnout despite it being a fairly new, unpublicized concept.

For Shannon Sweeney, owner of Green Living Services, participation was a no-brainer. Her company sells artificial grass turfs, so she signed up to lay a few down for lawn games.

“It’s just to inspire people to get outside and bring parks to urban areas,” Sweeney said. “I want to see more green downtown, and even a little green makes a big difference.”

Huntridge Neighborhood community activist Melissa Clark says she tried to get the city involved when she worked for its parks and rec department, but the idea was always shelved due to permits and safety concerns. There’s really no downside, she says. It’s temporary, participants clean up after themselves and it piques people’s interest in a community issue. Now that it’s citizen-run, she says, the city is all for it. Besides, participants pay for the time they “park.”

The UNLV students used to opportunity to get input on a permanent park they are designing. To gather ideas, the group placed a blank white block in the center of its space and asked people to write their park amenities wish lists on it. Water misters, a stocked fishing pond, rock climbing and “no bums” were among the more creative requests they received.

The students, who are members of the Urbanism Studio at Fifth Street School, plan to analyze the citizen recommendations and draft a proposal for a real town square, which they will present to the city later this year.

For Clary, it’s also a question of community priorities.

“Downtown always needs better parking,” she says. “On the flip side, we also need quality of life.” KRISTY TOTTEN