When I ask people to meet me downtown for lunch, the first thing they say, usually with a mix of horror and alarm, is, “But where will I park?!”

So when Lauren Frye, a local architect, told me about Park(ing) Day, an event where parking places are briefly turned into tiny parks for people, I was both intrigued — and a teensy bit skeptical.

Park(ing) Day is an international day devoted to temporarily turning parking spaces on public streets into parks for pedestrians. It’s the third Friday in September, annually.

Frye is architect-in-residence and design thinking instructor at Forsyth Country Day School and a project architect at Walter Robbs. She created the Pop Up Winston-Salem program as an enrichment camp offered to all area high school students through Forsyth Country Day. A similar program is in the works for next summer. Frye and Elise Barrella, an engineering professor at Wake Forest University, are considering other ways to expand this program to reach broad age levels.

On Aug. 2, Frye, Barrella, students and adult volunteers installed a trial pop-up park outside of the old Miller’s store on Trade Street.

But that was just a preview. Frye and Barrella, through the Community Design Studio and along with MIXXER, a makerspace, and DENT, a “reuse organization and art laboratory,” are organizing student and adult volunteers to install pop-up parks around Trade, Liberty and Main streets noon-6 p.m. Sept. 20. The Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership helped the group acquire parking spaces for the day.

“Pop-ups are used all the time for shops or restaurants,” Frye said. “And it’s a methodology used in tactical urbanism, which is doing low-impact and minimally invested projects to test out ideas in a public space. It’s part of the design process to prototype an idea and learn from it.

“The Park(ing) Day experiment started in the mid-2000s on the West Coast. Park(ing) Day is really focused on: ‘How do we use our public space? Who and what is public space for? How has it gotten this way? And what do we want to do with our public space?’”

Piedmont Environmental Alliance and Roots First, who are also participating, are taking an environmental tack, Frye said.

“Their conversation is more: ‘Why do we pave so much of our public space?,’” Frye said. “It’s about thinking through better how our urban spaces interact with our natural spaces.

“DENT is aiming to spark a conversation about how we could better re-use what we initially think of as trash.”

Frye, Barrella and a cohort of other designers are looking at what kind of things make a good park. The most successful public spaces have not only seating, shade, she said, but also they have good people-watching opportunities.

And water, maybe. Not all of Winston-Salem’s public parks have drinking fountains.

Alan Shelton is the founder of MIXXER, where Frye and Barrella are building portions of their pop-ups.

“Park(ing) Day is a chance to think about how we use public space,” he said. “You walk on the sidewalk, you walk on the street, you cross at certain places.

“For hundreds of thousands of years, we didn’t have an urban environment. We have it now, but we can get so busy getting from Point A to Point B that we don’t notice little things.

“We’ve made room for cars and for transportation. Maybe we could make room for people too.”

Pop-ups are often designed to stimulate and facilitate conversations about social issues.

“It’s partly a reaction to seeing some of the seating around town disappearing,” Fry said. “Instead of taking away seating in the shade, we could be providing resources for people. That would be a better idea than trying to sweep them away.”

Exactly what the installations are going to be are still in the works, but some will be experimental, some with be instructional, some will be artistic.

“Most will be all three in some way shape or form,” Frye said. “We want people to come out and have a conversation.”

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