At 5 p.m. on a sunny Thursday afternoon in the middle of May, a new park appeared on Summit Avenue at Denny and Olive Ways. Many motorists cruising through the nearby busy intersection noticed a cluster of people basking in the sun, but barely anyone knew the spot had been newly christened “Four Car Park.” Despite official No Parking signs blocking off the short section of road, the park was completely, unquestionably illegal.
“You’d be amazed how easy it is to find No Parking signs,” says park planner Seth Geiser, a 28-year-old who received his master’s in urban design from the University of Washington. “We found a couple and put them up the night before. By the time we came back, there weren’t any cars parked on one side.”
Bets were placed on when the police would shut the park down. But they never did. At 9 p.m., as darkness descended, the No Parking signs finally came down as the park dwellers disbanded.
The Four Car Park, named for the number of parking spaces it replaced, was the brainchild of Geiser and Kirk Hovenkotter, a 23-year-old graduate of UW’s community and environmental planning program. The two friends were inspired by Parking Day, an annual worldwide event where artists turn metered parking spots into temporary parks, as well as city-sanctioned programs in San Francisco and New York that are transforming underutilized urban areas into park space. They wanted to see something similar happen in Seattle.
“We were getting grumpy about these little pieces of road that no one cares about,” Geiser says. “We always said, ‘Someone should do something.’ Then we got to the point where we decided we should do something.”
After watching a group of Capitol Hill residents spend two years going through official channels to establish a park at Republican Street and Federal Avenue, which is still in the works, the two renegade urban planners decided to sidestep the authorities and take matters into their own hands. The small section of Summit was a perfect spot.
“It was just so sad,” Geiser recalls.
Geiser, Hovenkotter and their friend Erik Alskog decided to stage their reclamation during Capitol Hill’s Blitz Art Walk, and spent $20 on chalk for sidewalk art and batteries for a portable stereo. They went to the nearest business, Ghost Gallery, to tell owner Laurie Kearney of their plans. She met them with enthusiasm and even loaned a picnic table, which became the centerpiece of the park.
“It was great, and it made sense,” Kearney says. “That stretch of grass and asphalt is perfect for pop-up projects like this. Any installation that makes passersby want to stop, interact and get involved is highly welcome here!”
The three friends, now operating under the moniker Renegade Planners Collective, are planning more projects, but promise to open Four Car Park again. Says Geiser, “We’re working on getting tetherball for next month.”
Photograph by Erik Alskog