BRAKING NEWS: Last Friday, several citizens commandeered a parking space on Little Lonsdale Street. The idlers topped up the meter all day, but used the asphalt for nothing more than lounging around, writing letters, hula-hooping and lively conversation. When questioned, they said it was PARKing day.
We arrived at seven o’clock in the morning, rolled out fake grass, positioned pot plants and a petite picket fence, then spread out an umbrella and deck chairs. PARKer extraordinaire Alicia brought most of the props, as well as fruit, sandwiches, hot drinks, cold drinks, baked goods and KeepCups. During the week, she’d contacted some local traders to let them know we’d be sitting around.
Passers-by were intrigued: some stared, some questioned us, some glanced and turned quickly away as though we’d made them accessories to the crime.
We said hello, invited people to join us and explained that along with hundreds of groups around the world, we had turned a car park into a park for pedestrians to enjoy. It was a fine place from which to ponder the use and misuse of public space in our cities.
My favourite visitor was a radiant nun, Anneliese, who had strayed off course in search of Collins Street. With a cup of tea in hand, she shared stories from her deeply reflective and, to us, wholly unfamiliar, existence. Anneliese, who wore a purple jacket and pearl earrings, had joined her order 54 years ago in Germany and subsequently dedicated over five decades to service in Australia.
Sculptor Benjamin Gilbert and philosopher Samuel Alexander also stayed a while. Karen, a sprightly woman who lived nearby, explained that a group of residents had been working on a plan to convert the neighbouring Wesley Church grounds into the only parkland within the Hoddle Grid.
We’d chosen the location for its slow, one-way traffic and proximity to a nice coffee shop. Fortuitously, an estate agent’s board directly across the road proclaimed the existence of a “UNIQUE INNER-CITY OASIS”.
Three employees of Melbourne City Council visited us throughout the day. Two of them, who worked in urban design and sustainability, cheered us on. The third fellow, who seemed to have something to do with permits and insurance and drove a large white car with orange lights on the roof, told us our behaviour was illegal and that we were “a danger to ourselves” and warned that other officers would come shortly to move us along.
No one came, however – aside from a parking inspector who declined to check our (up-to-date) meter, but instead, asked if he could take a photo.
Many people took snaps. We didn’t solicit media coverage, but we were photographed by The Age and the Melbourne Times Weekly, and also appeared on the Wheeler Centre’s blog. Architect-turned-photographer Nick Stephenson took plenty of pics too.
I had a wonderful day. It reminded me of one of my favourite memories from the two years I lived in Canberra. On a fresh spring day, my housemates and neighbours held a garage sale on our wide driveway. We gossiped with all-comers and ate home-cooked pizzas. It was the first time I appreciated the joy of neighbourliness.
PARKing day was similar. We had a quirky excuse to smile and say hello, and the perfect place to meet people we’d never otherwise come across. There is something to be said for sitting still.