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Reclaiming City Spaces

LAN students reveal their “last cloud” concept as part of global PARK(ing) Day event

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PARK(ing) Day students’ “last cloud” concept installed in front of the Cannery. Photo by Nina Tabios.

If it were up to Katerin Luquetta, she would never drive a car. But she understands we live in a world where practicality takes precedence, and thus, cars will forever be a main source of transportation.

But in an effort to get people to rethink the impact our vehicles have on the planet, students from the Academy of Art University’s School of Landscape Architecture (LAN) partake in PARK(ing) Day, a global event where metered parking spots are converted into public spaces.

The original initiative was started in 2005, when San Francisco art and design studio Rebar wanted to reclaim city spaces reserved for parked cars and transform them into temporary street parks. Now, it’s tradition for citizens, artists and activists worldwide to create pseudo-parks in these metered slots every third Friday in September. The LAN department presented its first PARK(ing) Day space in 2013, spearheaded by the school’s Student Affiliate Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). 

“We wanted to make the point of we need to take care of this [urban] space,” explained Luquetta, who is a third-year LAN student and two-time PARK(ing) Day participant. “The less cars we use and more open spaces we use for the public, the more we’re going to take care of the environment and atmosphere.” 

The fun in this type of advocacy comes from getting creative with the limited area and re-evaluating the space’s purpose. Whether rolling in sod or setting up lawn chairs and games, PARK(ing) Day is a chance to consider how much space a city such as San Francisco dedicates to private vehicles versus public needs. Previous installments explored what happens when public urban open spaces are steadily decreasing to accommodate rising populations and skyscrapers.

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An overhead shot of the LAN students’ PARK(ing) Day installation. Photo by Bob Toy.

“The purpose is to bring awareness [to public space],” said Le Feng, also a third-year LAN student, who has participated in every PARK(ing) Day since she started at the Academy. “We only have so much land, so it’s really our decision if we want it to be an urban space, or more of a natural space.” 

For this year’s parklet, a group of six LAN students set up outside of the Cannery, nearby Fisherman’s Wharf. Located at the tourist-heavy cross section of Beach and Columbus streets, the students pulled together a table, chairs and decorative boxes holding plants and magazines around a cluster of white balloons serving as the centerpiece of the design. According to LAN student and one of the project’s concept designers Han Jia, the balloons symbolize their concept of the “last cloud.” 

“These balloons represent the white cloud we see every day,” he revealed. “The concept for our project was we want to run out the gas pollution. It’s getting worse day-by-day and vehicles tend to take … the public spaces away from people.”

Luquetta added: “We thought to make this cloud and create it visually that if we don’t take care of our environment, we can end up with no blue skies, but just a massive cloud that is going to end up making people not be able to look around. So, the cloud is really the point of us saying, ‘What if this is the last cloud you get to see in the future world?’”

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Some of the students involved with PARK(ing) Day: (L–R) Diana Liao, Lacey Luo, Katerin Luquetta, Han Jia, and Le Feng. Photo by Bob Toy.

PARK(ing) Day in San Francisco was on the windy side, but nonetheless, commuters on their way to work and tourists waiting for their double-decker buses were intrigued by the mini-park sitting in the busy street. Passersby asked the typical questions: “What is this for?”; “What are you guys doing here?”; “What is this about?” Even for those who quickly passed through, the mere presence of the students’ creation was enough to raise the awareness PARK(ing) Day students were hoping for. 

“Before, we had a parking lot and we changed it to a temporary park with these balloons so people can imagine the last pure space in our future,” explained Diana Liao, LAN student and fellow PARK(ing) Day designer. “[We asked ourselves] what can we do here [on this day]? We can promote people’s consciousness to protect the earth and environment, that is our mission in landscape architecture.”