Not just a place to park your car: PARK(ing) as spatial argument.

Author:Endres, Danielle
Position:Essay
 
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"Providing temporary public open space ... one parking spot at a time."

--PARK(ing) Day (1)

Metered parking spaces are a valuable commodity in most cities. Car drivers vie for a precious parking spot in busy urban centers. Cars move in and out of these parking spaces into seemingly endless flows of traffic and congestion. But is it possible to reinvent the metered parking space? Might the space be used for a purpose other than parking a car? Is it possible to reimagine an urban parking space as a temporary city park? Rebar, a San Francisco interdisciplinary studio working at the intersection of art, design, and ecology to engage in "creative repurposing of familiar elements to produce new meaning" (Merker, 2010, p. 51), did just that. In the spirit of The Situationist International's "inclination to transgress the boundaries found in culture and cities" (Sadler, 1998, p. 44), Rebar created the 2005 performance installation, PARK(ing). Noting how parking spaces in San Francisco are not explicitly reserved for private vehicles, the group leased a parking spot, rolled out sod, erected a potted tree, and put down a bench for passersby to stop and sit. Rebar described it as a "temporary public park that provided nature, seating, and shade ... thereby temporarily expanding the public realm and improving the quality of urban human habitat, at least until the meter ran out" (Rebar Group, Inc., 2010, para 3-4).

Following the initial installation, the image of a park oddly sitting in a parking space in San Francisco (see Figure 1) became an image event (DeLuca, 1999a) that quickly disseminated in the public screen (DeLuca & Peeples, 2002). Co-organizer Blaine Merker (2010) explained, "The combination of the iconic image of parking-space-as-park and its accompanying descriptive name created a 'sticky' idea that transmitted readily across electronic media" (p. 46). Eventually people from all over the world contacted Rebar to find out how to stage such an event. In 2006, Rebar picked a day as "PARK(ing) Day" and encouraged people to make their own creative, artistic, tactile and performative PARK(ing) installations on that day to raise awareness of a variety of issues and causes facing urban dwellers (Stuart, 2006). In the years since, PARK(ing) Day has become an international movement that takes place annually on the third Friday of September "with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world" (Rebar Group, Inc., 2012a, para. 1). The latest numbers posted on the PARK(ing) Day website reveal that the 2011 PARK(ing) Day included 957 parks in 162 cities, in 35 countries, and across six continents (Rebar Group, Inc., 2012d). (2) However, according to the organizers, quality is more important than quantity. They acknowledge that a high number of PARKs is good, but counter that, "having great PARKs is even better; PARKs that propose an alternate vision for the use of urban space, PARKs that convince others to join the cause, PARKs that change minds, PARKs that make you smile" (Rebar Group, Inc., 2012e, para. 1). PARK(ing) is a playful subversion of the enduring normalized spatial practices of the built urban environment, a spatial meme for users to rethink and recreate their own public urban spaces.

While there are many ways to engage with the PARK(ing) movement's experiments in representing what alternative urbanity might look like including the aesthetic, embodied, and performative nature of the PARK(ing) installations, (3) we are particularly interested in how the movement uses place and space to make arguments. PARK(ing) installations and the larger movement are non-verbal spatial arguments that put forward an alternative vision of urban space. The installations themselves make an argument that parking spaces can be used for things other than cars. The installations serve as examples of the different uses that are possible. They rely on the tactical reconstruction of place to argue for these possibilities. PARK(ing) installations are an example of what Endres and Senda-Cook (2011) call place in protest, a heuristic that describes how despite normalized understandings, places/spaces are sites of contestation, or protest, wherein the practiced norms are constantly being challenged or reinforced. (4) PARK(ing) installations are temporary places in protest, or temporary tactical disruptions of normalized spatial practices that seek to spur change in thinking about urban planning, automobility, and public space. Yet, beyond the particular PARK(ing) installations, PARK(ing) Day is an international movement that is sustained the other 364 days of the year in the residual traces of particular installations that are archived and disseminated through photos, videos, websites, written accounts, and other forms of documentation. The PARK(ing) Day website serves as a centralized node for archiving and disseminating the idea of PARK(ing).

In this essay we examine PARK(ing) installations and PARK(ing) Day as' forms of spatial argument. PARK(ing) Day is a spatial argument that reveals the processual nature of the built environment and practices in space. It highlights how place, even if it has a relatively stable normalized meaning, is always in process and therefore always subject to alternative arguments. While parking spots may seem to be ordinary and relatively durable fixtures in many large cities, they only seem that way because of the repeated practices that normalize their meaning. It is only in temporary moments of transgression and resistance like PARK(ing) that we see fissures in these spaces. PARK(ing) and other transgressions of space reveal how places/spaces are constantly being (re)made through argument. Our examination of PARK(ing), therefore, not only reveals the argumentative potential of place/space but also reveals that the common uses of place/space are normalized arguments. The (re)construction of place/space is in process and open to alternate arguments.

In addition to furthering our understanding of spatial arguments, we are particularly interested in examining how the spatial arguments of the PARK(ing) movement engage with a tension between ephemerality and endurance that ultimately constrains and enables the tactical deployment of future PARK(ing) installations. Using Taylor's (2003) terminology, PARK(ing) installations act in the realm of the "ephemeral repertoire of embodied practice/ knowledge" because they perform temporary argumentative fissures in the normalized meaning of urban space, whereas the PARK(ing) Day website acts in the realm of the "archive of supposedly enduring materials" (p. 19, italics in original). The PARK(ing) Day movement resides at the intersection of the ephemeral and the archival, involving both localized temporary installations in particular places and the documentation of the PARK(ing) concept on the website archive. We examine how the archiving of PARK(ing) installations shapes the broad dissemination and development of this movement and its main argument, which then influences the construction of future PARK(ing) installations. This movement between the archive and the repertoire of PARK(ing) constrains and enables the argumentative resources available for future spatial arguments.

We begin by further examining spatial argument as a significant form of non-verbal argument worthy of the attention of argumentation scholars. Then, we turn to an analysis of PARK(ing) as a spatial argument. We show how PARK(ing) engages with the tension between ephemerality and endurance. We reveal how: 1) ephemeral spatial arguments can temporarily challenge collective, normalized understandings of places and spaces; 2) the documentation and archiving of ephemeral spatial arguments can extend their lives and create more enduring arguments about spatial practices; and 3) the archive of past spatial arguments can constrain and enable future argumentative force. As our conclusion suggests, this analysis has important implications not only for argumentation studies of non-verbal forms of argument but also for thinking about processes of resistance to normalized spatial practices and tensions that emerge for social movements.

Spatial Argument

Place and space are mutually constitutive terms (Blair, Dickinson, & Ott, 2010) that allow researchers to examine the relationship between humans and geography. In further defining the place/space relationship, geographer Cresswell contends that, in general, interdisciplinary research assumes that "Space is a more abstract concept than place" (Cresswell, 2004, p. 8). In our focus on spatial argument, we use the term to suggest a general focus on how spaces can act argumentatively while recognizing that spatial arguments are embedded in particular place-based practices. Because of the fluid relationship between place and space, we will use the term place/space for the remainder of this essay unless we are specifically placing our focus on one term or the other.

Scholars are increasingly using place/space concepts to examine the rhetoricity of a variety of phenomena including memory places and memorials (e.g., Blair, 2001; Blair, et al., 2010; Blair & Michel, 2000; Brouwer, 2007; Dickinson, Blair, & Ott, 2010), places of consumption (e.g., Dickinson, 1997, 2002; Modesti, 2008; Stewart & Dickinson, 2008), museums (e.g., Brady, 2011; Dickinson, Ott, & Aoki, 2005, 2006; Kelly & Hoerl, 2012; Zagacki & Gallagher, 2009), social movements (e.g., Endres & Senda-Cook, 2009, 2011; Singer, 2011; West, 2007, 2010), urban centers (e.g., St. Antoine, 2007; Wood, 2009), and cultivating a sense of place (e.g., Cantrill, 1998; Cantrill & Senecah, 2001; Cantrill, Thompson, Garrett, & Rochester, 2007; Dickinson, 2011; Spurlock, 2009). Collectively, these studies assume that places and spaces are forms of material rhetoric...

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