For us, it was perfect weather for Park(ing) Day. It wasn’t too hot or too cold…and it wasn’t too sunny or too cloudy. The actual construction of the mini-park (also known as a parklet) started at 9:30am and only took about an hour and half once we had all the ingredients at the site. However, getting all the materials together that morning started around 6am…and the planning to make the parklet a reality took nearly six months.
This was the first time South Orange participated in Park(ing) Day though it has been actively happening annually since 2005. Our parklet was pretty straightforward. We rolled sod out onto two parking spaces directly in front of Tito’s Burritos and Wings on W South Orange Ave in the downtown area of South Orange. We had twenty native plants and one beautiful river birch to decorate the area. Eventage, a local business, loaned us outdoor furniture and one of the town’s trustees pitched in by bringing a big red umbrella to the site.
By the time the sod was nearly finished, that same volunteer was raving about just how awesome it was and that the act of transforming a small corner of South Orange had a huge positive impact. That’s the thing about green space and our typical surroundings, we don’t always know and can’t visualize how a small change can redefine a place. Small changes are sometime the biggest challenges, because the inertia to “not change” is as great for little steps as larger ones. The time commitment to accomplish a tiny move forward is as much as jumping far ahead. All of this adds up to more risk for less reward, and who wants to put in so much work for a bit of success? That’s the beauty of Park(ing) Day, it offers people a reason to do a small effort for one day as a part of a larger movement to show real results. Small successes have a tendency to grow in momentum. People like to see things accomplished. I feel like our parklet was a big success even if it was for only two parking spaces for a short period of time.
As we planned the parklet, one of the big concerns was that we were going to put it on South Orange Ave. The throughway is notoriously busy with traffic and cars speeding down it. As a highway, it stretches from Newark all the way west to Morristown. I’ve heard lots of people express that it doesn’t feel safe, and that traffic calming measures should be taken.
I hung out at the parklet the entire day of Park(ing) Day and it’s amazing how it almost made the traffic seem non-existent. Not only that, the parking spaces we turned into a grassy mini-park are less than 50 yards from an overpass for the NJ Transit commuter trains. During weekdays, multiple trains race by every hour. I only noticed the train once throughout the day. It wasn’t that the sod and native plants somehow dampened the sound of the cars or trains. It was that the atmosphere of the mini-park turns your focus away from the noisy infrastructure that surrounded us.
How it Happened
I can’t say enough about how many people helped make the parklet happen. From volunteers to setup the day of to people being supportive about the idea to the partnerships made with local businesses and folks in the local government, everyone made it possible. The South Orange Environmental Commission is where it all started. The commission’s support of the idea was what got everything kicked off. Also, people like Walter Clarke, Jim McGowan, Matt Glass, Bob Zuckerman and Patricia Canning all gave something to turn the idea into a reality. Tito’s Burritos and Wings and Mike Caldarella were a huge help by sponsoring of the event. As I mentioned, to get the sod on the ground took about 6 months of planning. We had to talk to multiple town departments and staff around permits and requirements. We had to get the ok from Essex County to occupy part of the road and sidewalk. We had to raise some money to buy all the sod and plants and tree. All of this took lots of talking and moving forward in little bity tiny steps. I wasn’t sure we’d make it happen at points.
Success breeds success. We are already talking about next year and how we can give parklets a bigger presence in the downtown area. South Orange is a dynamic, growing community of passionate individuals and families. We all want the spirit of places like New York City to live here too. We all want to see amazing things happening around every corner. With this inaugural Park(ing) Day in South Orange being a big success, I’m hoping to make the town more sustainable and fun all at the same time for years to come.