Art, design and activism. The interdisciplinary studio Rebar, based in San Francisco, is the connection between three realities. A noteworthy project, realized every year in the californian metropolis (and in many other cities), is the PARK(ing) Day. The PARK(ing) Day is a global event where artists, activists and people work together to transform few meters of a parking lot (suitable for a car) into temporary gardens or green public spaces for some hours, that they legally reserved in the parking meter.

Rebar carried out a research about the use of public land, discovering that more than 70% is actually used as cars’ transit or stop, while only a small part of it is used as green or public space. Born in 2005, the project planned, at the beginning, the setting of little rest areas, decorated with trees and benches. Later, the typology of the gardens became more and more various, including also environmentalist demonstrations, urban horticulture or artistic installations.

From its birth till now, more than 500 gardens/parks have been realized in hundreds of cities all around the world: from South Africa to South Korea, from Norway to Poland, Citizens worldwide are starting to recognize the need for new approaches to the urban landscape. PARK(ing) Day demonstrates that even temporary or interim spatial reprogramming can improve the spatial quality of the city. To express the absurdity of the landscape in which we live, becoming everyday less accessible to people, Rebar chooses to use typical urban furniture and reinvent it in a new contest, aiming to analyze in a critical way the urban space’s structures. Streets become space of growing creativity through happenings and installations for a briefed period.

The studio talks about its project as tactical urbanism, which means short and temporary changes in the surroundings, as a spark of a bigger transformation of the environment. Their performances are what the historian Michel De Certeau called (in his work The Practice of Everiday Life) “ways of operating”, i.e. strategies and tactics to express their critical actions in the collective space. Every park keeps inside an enormous potential, able to show people many and different possibilities which involve a change in the urban ecosystem. They represent an unusual and spectacular interruption of the everyday city life’s context and, at the same time, they could be read as a critic to the values and priorities of the urban policy of our cities.

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Rebar, in the PARK(ing) Day program manifesto, quote Guy Debord, member of the Situationist International, comparing what he called ‘situation’ (a moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a game of events) to the temporary change of urban space in gardens and parks. The creation of public situations between people is seen by the activists as generous urbanism, that is a performance that could enrich people and places at the same time.

The Geveltuindag is more than a tradition that happens since the 80s in the quarter De Pijp in Amsterdam, where people used to remove tiles in front of their house entrances, in order to put soil, plants and flowers.

Photo: Francesco Vedovato

The constant seeking for a greener and friendly public space made the locals start this semi-illegal practice of developing small (mostly vertical) gardens in the public pedestrian path and in the facades of the buildings.

Photo: Francesco Vedovato

De Pijp is nowadays undergoing a constant gentrification, while it used to be a very popular area of the city. Meanwhile, it spreads its tradition to the whole Amsterdam, where mini-gardens obtained removing tiles in front of the door are becoming more and more common; so common that nowadays the municipality legally allows the practice and, moreover, encourages it, through the institution of the Geveltuindag itself, literally the “Green Facade Day”, where workers are at the disposal of citizens’ necessities, helping in creating a greener neighborhood.

Geveltuindag Announcement Poster

Canada. Living the American dream without the violence since 1867” said the t-shirt of a guy I met once.  From the peaceful Canada comes a peaceful urban guerrilla. I’m talking about three young artists from Toronto who want to revalue the neglected areas of their cities through their work.

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The first one is known as Posterchild and creates public installations thought to interact with their sourroundings. Planter boxes made of wood and full of flowers are hanged up on lampposts, walls or traffic lights, while empty flyer-boxes are transformed into unusual containers for any kind of plant. Posterchild creates his works with the flotsam of the urban environment, he just processes it and return it to the city. The uselessness of these objects could be an opportunity, for artists and people, to act and dialogue whit the metropolitan contest, where the green is often absent.

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However, the most original idea is the Poster Pocket Plant project, a work of two other artists who find the way to bring a bit of nature in our everyday city life: Sean and Eric create some “hacking” installations with the typical urban furniture: they tear pieces of billboards and roll them up in order to create a sort of a pot where to put some soil and plant flowers. In this way, they want to show people the enormous potential of public space and teach them to look at reality  from a different point of view.

Poster Pocket Plant Instructions – Courtesy of the artist

Both projects fall within the category of “DIY urban design”, as Scott Burnham describes all kinds of artworks born outside the official panorama of contemporary art, a new fresh underground culture which starts to emerge in our city.