ESSAY: Patrick Geddes Has Something to Say About Your Parking Spot
What else could you nurture inside of it?
This week is a slight detour from the usual story. More of an essay and question to you all as readers. It is a try at something new, so let me know what you think.
You know of these PARK(ing) Day events. One day a year—the third Friday in September—people in cities around the world transform parking spaces into tiny pocket parks. The movement is fun, and makes a whole lot of sense. Giving parking spaces a makeover, I mean. They tend to be pretty unattractive.
But these particular acts of sequestering public space mean a whole lot more than fun and beautification. They point to a sizable shift, from something of a nature-dominating culture, to a slightly more nature-intertwined culture. But can this movement scale?
What I mean is, could a conversion of car space to people-and-nature space become a guiding principle in every city?
It could. But to make it sustain itself, and to bring people and cities truly into some kind of virtuous cycle with their natural environments, it might take some kind of Patrick Geddes-esque antics.
I invoke Geddes here, on account of this Scottish planner/biologist having had a broad-reaching recipe for how to bring about equitable, nature-connected cities with ‘pocket parks’ and ‘parklets’ galore. That, and he did it more than 100 years ago.
Geddes’ theory and work in the early 1900s had a substantial influence on how we plan cities today, but recent movements to ‘green’ cities seem to have left out some of the most important ingredients in his recipe.
PARK(ing) day re-ignites one of these important lost ingredients: the empowerment of everyday people to make changes in their neighborhoods and cities. This was certainly important to Geddes. Taking the idea beyond a parking space, what I suppose we are really pointing toward, is not just the act of altering our local landscapes, but altering how we engage them, and how—or whether—we care for them.
Geddes encouraged citizens not only to participate in making decisions, he also went to great lengths to provide them the experience and knowledge that would be required to make informed decisions. In turn, this allowed him to entrust citizens as the owners, directors, and stewards of their shared public parks.
His reasoning for all of this was simple…
What better training in citizenship, as well as opportunity of health, can be offered any of us than in sharing in the upkeep of our parks and gardens?
Patrick Geddes, 1915
Geddes knew that meaningful interactions with the natural environment have positive outcomes on our physical and mental health. His way of approaching urban planning then, was not only about structure, but about a sustained shift in cultural habits that put citizens in regular contact with the sun, the soil, the leaves—not just as people walking though a park, but as active social and environmental stewards of the places we live.
So in relation to all this, here is the question: If we could replace a parking spot nearby us with something that helped cultivate a meaningful relationship with the local environment, what would be in it, and what activity would we want to invite others to engage in?
My parking spot might look something like this…
You’ll notice that if you travel here with me, we’ll be going on bicycles—or some other human-powered form of transportation. There will be music-making with friends and strangers, and perhaps sharing the delicious power of herb tea, which would likely be made by Suhee with plants that are growing right next to us, as is her habit. A zelkova or camphor tree is suggested there too. It might look small, but if this parklet were allowed to live for centuries rather than just a day, the planter boxes might become mulch, the pavement might break apart and—perhaps after I am long gone— the tree would have grown to shade the entire street. What a great day that would be.
Well, circling back around, what would grow in your nature parking spot? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Hi, I’m Patrick Lydon, and each week at The Possible City, I write and illustrate a short adventure related to building more equitable, resilient, regenerative cities. If you enjoyed this one, please subscribe and share it with others!
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