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Pedestrians reclaim the streets

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If you thought those three lush strips of sod in the middle of Bedford Avenue last Friday were an incongruous but pleasing site, well, that was the point.

The installations – one each on N. 5th, N. 7th and N. 11th streets – were part of a one-day international event called “Park(ing) Day,” during which parking spaces are “reclaimed” and converted into vibrant public space. Sponsored in New York by Transportation Alternatives, the cyclist and pedestrian advocacy organization, the event seeks to reshape people’s feelings about space normally given to cars without a second though.

This year marked the second annual Park(ing) Day in New York. Across the five boroughs, there were 50 reclaimed parking spaces, including the three in Williamsburg.

“This is our way of showing the potential in every 100-square-foot area of space, and what it can be used for other than someone’s car,” said Wiley Norvell of Transportation Alternatives.

Those wanting to set up an installation needed only to apply with Transportation Alternatives, who selected the top 50 responses and provided funding along with a permit obtained by the city.

N. 11th and Bedford was home, for a day, to Buckminster Fuller Park, the creation of the nearby Buckminster Fuller Institute. The mini-park honored its namesake by having as its centerpiece a slice of a geodesic dome, the lightweight but deceptively strong structure comprised of triangles that Fuller developed.

“The whole dome itself would be a little big to fit here,” said Will Elkins of the Fuller Institute, who said he was pleasantly surprised by Williamsburg residents’ knowledge of the great American inventor, architect, author, and visionary.

A few blocks down on N. 7th street was the Meditation Garden, put together by East Williamsburg artist Thomas Bell. Inspired by a Japanese garden, Bell’s installation featured a strip of sod surrounded by sand. In the sand were some makeshift “reflecting pools,” which looked like water bowls for dogs, and some ad hoc “sculptures,” which looked like discarded items. But the effect was indeed serene.

“I figured it was the most busy corner in the neighborhood, so why not give people getting off the subway coming home from work the opportunity to lie down and relax,” Bell said.

Just then, a motorcyclist pulled up, not sure of what he had stumbled upon but clearly hoping it was a parking space. “You are not parking that thing here,” Bell said, the serenity absent from his voice momentarily. But the biker moved on, and calm was restored.

Down on N. 5th street, two parking spaces became one “Extended Chill Space,” designed by Crown Heights residents Nick Whitaker and Jes Schultz.

“It’s what I do best,” said Whitaker, presiding over a sod expanse and a mini-children’s jungle gym.

Joining Schultz and Whitaker at the Extended Chill Space was Teresa Toro, Transportation Committee chair of Community Board 1.

“This shows that a little bit of respite from cars and metal goes a long way,” she said.

“When we give our streets over to the community, they respond with creativity and give us things that help build our community.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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