While checking out Stadissa.fi (an online list of events happening around Helsinki) last week I noticed the intriguingly named “Park(ing) Day” listed for Friday the 21st of September. Now while some bloggers have commented that there are too many “Days” in Helsinki, I’m greatly enjoying living in such a vibrant city… and so I headed down to Esplanadi after work that Friday to see what was happening.
The short answer: not a lot was going on. But for what the event lacked in quantity it at least partly made up for with quality. The event (held in 35 countries in 2012) turns parking spots for cars temporarily into “parking” spots for people (or in their words “providing temporary public open space”). The Helsinki event also definitely had a focus on reducing the number of cars in the city (I’m not sure if this was an “official” message, but it definitely permeated through). I only observed about 8 parking spot that had been taken over for Park(ing) day – in the first a temporary wooden floor had been laid down, and passers-by had the opportunity to play Double-Dutch (rope-jumping). Further down the road was a information stall for one of the animal rescue organizations in Helsinki – all the dogs were dressed in bright orange kerchiefs. And immediately adjacent to that was a “bedtime story spot” – complete with a bed, a chair and lots of story books (it seems to be popular as there were people using it both times I walked by).
Further down Esplanadi there were two empty hammocks… empty at least until I took a break to hang out in one of the hammocks for a while. It turned out there were even books and pamphlets in the hammock, so I could read a little about urban design while putting my feet up.
Other spots included a garden-car (see the photo below), a Parking Day information stall where you could leave suggestions for permanent transformations of parking spaces, an open microphone for performers (which included Finnish rappers when I walked by), and a City of Helsinki stall where various public officials were available to answer questions. I’d read that there would be a book exchange spot, and while (unsuccessfully) looking for that I was invited to take part in an art project – the artist was invited people to write down unpleasant thoughts (e.g. negative memories, burdens, secrets), which she would then shred and eventually transform into an art-work.
My hour of walking around Esplanadi was maybe not as exciting as I’d hoped, but a worthwhile excursion. Good luck to the event organizers – I hope it will be repeated again next year, and that there can be even more “spots”. You can find more photos and news on the Helsinki Park(ing) Day Facebook page – and check out Laughing Squid’s favourite photos from last year’s event in San Fransisco (some good ideas for next year’s event in Helsinki?). Also to just note that Park(ing) Day was followed by Car-Free Day, where the cost of all public transport in the Helsinki metropol was reduced by more than 50 % – that’s definitely a day worth celebrating!