Parking spaces dominate our towns and cities – but should they? The UK’s first ever People Parking Day sees spaces being reclaimed for ‘people-friendly’ activities, from tea parties to book clubs
London alone has 1 million of the things. Not branches of Foxtons nor overpriced pints but parking spaces. Lined up, they would stretch over more than 3,000 miles, crossing the Atlantic. But yet the cars they’re designed for are parked up and unused for 95 per cent of the time, which campaigners say is a waste of valuable space.
In a bid to change things, they’ve organised the UK’s first ever People Parking Day this weekend (25-26 September), which will see people reclaim parking bays with activities like fitness classes and tea parties and even by planting gardens.
The London Parklet Campaign, which is made up of volunteers, is working with the charity Living Streets London and IBikeLondon, which runs free community bike rides in London, to encourage Londoners to reimagine the spaces. Their request? That one parking bay on every residential street in London is permitted to be turned into a community space.
“I want every Londoner whether they own a car or not to have access to these public spaces,” explained campaign founder Brenda Puech. “Not everyone is lucky enough to have a private garden, so providing social spaces close to people’s homes is essential.”
Puech said she came up with the idea while recovering from being knocked off her bike by a motorist who ran a red light. After being refused official permission to transform the parking space outside her home in London Fields, north-east London, she set up a guerrilla ‘parklet’. The People Parking Bay was a patch of artificial grass with flowerpots, a bench and a sign that read ‘You’re welcome to park yourself on the bay.’
People used the space as a resting point on the way back from shopping or cycling; mums used it to feed their babies; and locals watered the plants, Peuch said. “One couple had their first date there.”
It was soon removed by Hackney borough council.
Undeterred, Peuch and The London Parklet Campaign are now calling on London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and borough leaders to allow Londoners to apply to create ‘parklets’ in the streets where they live. They point out that over 60 per cent of people living in inner London don’t own a car.
Pop-up events are planned across the city this weekend. The best designed parklet will win £100, with judging by leading designers at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Sam Brown and Heather Whitbread.
The campaigners say they want to build on the success of London’s ‘streeteries’ – seating areas that were established in car parking spaces to support bars and restaurants during the pandemic. As well as their social benefits, proponents say, parklets can help address the climate crisis by greening urban areas and providing extra storm drainage.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a private garden, so providing social spaces close to people’s homes is essential
“Despite their popularity, getting ‘community parklets’ approved is a bureaucratic nightmare,” pointed out Peuch. “There is no process in any London borough. ‘Commercial parklets’ are deemed desirable, whereas the bar for their cheap-and-cheerful community equivalent is set prohibitively high: residents are required to take out a huge public liability insurance policy (proposed up to £10m in one London borough) – simply for installing a bench and table in the street.”
Jeremy Leach, chair of London Living Streets, said: “Allowing people to create parklets will empower communities, build social alliances and enable people to invest in the streets they live in, with a marginal impact on the number of car parking spaces. At this time of recovery from Covid and real concerns about climate change, we need to start a huge shift from streets for vehicles to streets for people.”
And Beatriz Puerta, who runs Humdingers Catering in Hoxton, added: We want a place for families to be allowed to eat together when they come to our soup kitchen. Having a parklet outside our cafe would create a community identity and be a green garden addition to the streets of Hoxton.
Main image: London Parklet Campaign