Today activists, artists, and concerned citizens around the world are taking back the streets with PARK(ing) Day. Originally conceived of in 2005 in San Francisco as a way of “…re-imagining the possibilities of the urban landscape”, PARK(ing) Day is intended to illustrate the wastefulness of petroleum-based transportation.
The U of M College of Design’s Students for Design Activism took over a parking spot for a few hours today to promote sustainability. An exhibit was created to demonstrate how much storm water is wasted when rain falls on impermeable surfaces such as asphalt compared to the same square footage– the size of a standard urban parking space–planted with grass or trees.
This demonstrates some of the situations that we as landscape architects can begin to apply ourselves. Most of us, as exemplified by our choices to study landscape in depth, are interested in protecting our environment and conserving our resources while still working towards a greater good. But what sorts of mechanisms can we design to achieve this goal in ways that are sustainable, proactive, and beautiful?
My own experiences as a volunteer in West Africa have certainly made me much more cognizant of flaws in the built environment that have negative impacts on peoples’ lives. Some of the more obvious examples in The Gambia included the placement of a city dump– complete with burning tires– adjacent to an orphanage school in an urban environment and the contamination of groundwater in rural villages due to the lack of proper disposal of human waste. From sensing the emotional impact of gentrified beachfront high-rises overlooking shanty-towns in Sierra Leone, I’ve become increasingly interested in design activism for people and places. Today though, as I am becoming ever more deeply immersed in the study of design toward sustainability, I stood still in a reserved spot while news crews filmed frustrated drivers late for class searching for parking spaces.