Friday is Park(ing) day, when people turn parking spaces into miniature parks, often feeding parking meters to maintain a grassy urban space.

One such park on Third Street was closed down.

According to Metro Louisville Public Works, a permit for the Park(ing) Day project would require the approval of Fire, EMS, PARC, and Public Works with a traffic engineer signing off on a traffic plan.  A three foot buffer would be required with barriers or reflective cones of some sort.  The agency says they are foremost concerned with safety and the permitting process is designed to promote that.

Public Works director Ted Pullen wasn’t immediately available for comment but a spokesperson in his office says, “All it takes is one person texting and driving to kill someone at the event.”

While the safety precautions designed into the permitting process are supposed to keep people safe, Public Works admits that it doesn’t always work citing an example of a biking event a couple years ago that was permitted with heavy traffic regulation.  Then, a drunk driver still managed to plow through and kill a cyclist despite the safety precautions.  It just goes to show that – permit of not – cars and drivers jeopardize the safety of people.

For the two hours or so that the park managed to occupy the Third Street parking spot, no traffic events went down.  Rather, passers by are reported to have expressed genuine interest and excitement at the prospect of a mini-park-for-a-day.  Some even had time to sit for a while and at least one game of chess took place.

This example really gets at the heart of the discussion that needs to be taking place: who are our public spaces really for?  Such demonstrations serve as an opportunity to market Louisville as a city that promotes out-of-the-box thinking to a broader global community.  Louisville must begin thinking actively and creatively about how quality green space affects our built environment.

While there are dangers in standing in a parking space along a street, this last question is of particular interest. “Who are our public spaces really for?” New York Times Ethicist Randy Cohen seems to have a problem with driving habits and parking spaces, and in this video, he calls certain vehicle choices unethical.

One point he brings up is: Why can people who own cars use street space and garage space to store them? Their cars are personal property, and cities provide car-owning citizens (and visitors) with places to store this property. Cohen wonders if he could put a trunk of his belongings on the street and pay the meter to store it. Would the Park(ing) day park be shut down if no one sat in it? What if they just set up a birdbath and astroturf?

Of course, someone could argue that while car ownership is not possible for everyone, and it is ultimately optional (though this is an easier option in many places), cars are still tools for transportation. People-movers bring customers to businesses, etc. However, they also cause pollution and are dangerous.

What are your thoughts? What’s the trade-off? Do cities do too much for car-owning citizens and not enough for everyone else, or should car owners be allowed certain concessions?