Here in Accra, Ghana, PARK(ing) Day came a little bit early this year (around the world, it’s to be celebrated on September 20th this year). But the essence of what we celebrated and promoted — transforming a car park into a people’s park to demonstrate the importance of public spaces, community activity and recreation — falls in line with the essence of the day. We did ours on September 7th and 8th as part of the Chale Wote Street Art Festival in Jamestown, in Old Accra.
PARK(ing) Day is an international “demonstration of the potential to repurpose the space given over to cars in our cities,” writes Angie Schmitt of the StreetsBlog Network in the article “Happy Park(ing) Day: Go Create a Better Street.”
It’s a day to challenge the status quo — planning our cities for cars, rather than planning our cities for people. The first Park(ing) Day space was a small green area with a bench and a tree, set up in 2005 by the organization Rebar. From there, it’s grown to almost 1000 locations in more than 130 cities in six continents — including in Africa, a continent where we consistently talk about the need for better, more engaging public spaces in our cities.
A Brief History of Park(ing) Days in Africa
According to the Park(ing) Day website archives, the first registered event (in the African continent) was in South Africa in 2009 (or, that’s at least when they starting sharing all the sites on their world map). In 2010, there was one registered event in the continent, in Stellenbosch, South Africa: The EcoMaties Sustainability Society, a student organisation at Stellenbosch University, created a “park” in a parking lot on the center of their campus. In 2011, there event was celebrated in Cape Town, as part of Creative Week Cape Town and two parking spaces were transformed into parklets.
In 2013, two events — one in Cape Town, South Africa and ours in Accra (yes, a little early!) were opportunities to re-shape community and planning mindsets about how we use our space.
From A Car Park to a People’s Park in Accra, Ghana
The funny thing is, when we began talking to community members, planning and developing our idea for this park, we had no idea about Park(ing) Day at all. The whole idea began with Mr. Adjei, whose family lives in Jamestown, behind the car park. I was in Jamestown and saw this open space next to the Old Kingsway Building with a few cars in it, and a tree. The car park is private land (owned by a private individual, who gains income by its usage as a car park; there is a park operator, Ayittey, who oversees the car park’s management and charges for parking each weekday).
Mr. Adjei was sitting outside with his son, and I approached them and asked about the space.Through our conversation, Mr. Adjei said he’d planted the tree there because he wanted to spruce up the place. Light bulb.
“What do you think of us turning this into a park for two days?” I’d asked him.
“Why not?” he’d said. And that’s pretty much how it started.
We — Akua Nyame-Mensah, Mae-Ling Lokko, Kuukuwa Manful, Hassan Salih and Anthony Tuffour and me, Victoria Okoye — are a group of architects and planners who are interested in promoting parks and public spaces in Accra. Many of us had linked up earlier this year through the Ghana Urban Platform to apply for a grant to re-think public spaces, and this transformed into creating a space for people, especially children, in Jamestown, a historic and densely populated district in Accra. We reached out to Accra[dot]alt, the organizers of the Chale Wote Street Art Festival, to create our space during their street art, performance, theatre festival (which took place earlier this month). We linked up with Hassan by partnering up with Creative MESH Hub, a group of architects initiating the Accratopia Project, to use urban design to visualize a better Accra.
After my conversation with Mr. Adjei, our team traveled back and forth to Jamestown to meet with Mr. Adjei, his family, and other residents, for more conversations about public spaces, to see what we could do and what their interests were.
We organized a community cleanup with volunteers from the community and with our friends from throughout Accra, removing garbage and organizing the area.
We collected more than 80 used tires, which we brought to the site.
We brought permanent and temporary garden features to the space — our entire idea began with the tree that Mr. Adjei, the head of household who lives behind the car park, planted to “green” up the area. We wanted to contribute to that.
With the children from the area, we cleaned the tires, and then painted them blue, yellow, red…
We used the space – from a space to relax and eat lunch, to socialize, to play and run around with tires, etc.
And then we started conversations about how public spaces in Jamestown, and throughout Accra, could be improved.
In the end, it all came together, and the result was a safe, convenient and inclusive space for community members, including festival visitors but especially for children from Jamestown. Big questions still remain: How can we take this further? How can we use the principles embodied in Park(ing) day to improve public spaces in Accra everyday? What other Park(ing) Day-esque activities are taking place across the continent, and how can we work together and share our lessons?