A PARK(ing) Day in Accra, Ghana: Transforming car spaces into people’s spaces, for a weekend

in Projects/Public Life/Public Space/Urbanism from Ghana by

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.

An early meeting with Mr. Adjei and Hassan Salih of Creative MESH Hub.
An early meeting with Mr. Adjei and Hassan Salih of Creative MESH Hub.

We organized a community cleanup with volunteers from the community and with our friends from throughout Accra, removing garbage and organizing the area.

The car park on a Saturday morning, before the cleanup.
The car park on a Saturday morning, before the cleanup.
Cleaning up trash isn't easy.
Cleaning up trash isn’t easy.
Some of our awesome volunteers who helped us out that day.
Some of our awesome volunteers who helped us out that day.
The car park on a Saturday morning, after the cleanup.
The car park on a Saturday morning, after the cleanup.

We collected more than 80 used tires, which we brought to the site.

Akua Nyame-Mensah, our teammate, was in charge of collecting donated tires and bringing them to the site. She brought about 70!
Akua Nyame-Mensah, our teammate, was in charge of collecting donated tires and bringing them to the site. She brought about 70!
Mae-Ling Lokko, our teammate, helps unload tires.
Mae-Ling Lokko, our teammate, helps unload tires.
Ato Annan of the Foundation for Contemporary Art brought tires and helped us unload them, too.
Ato Annan of the Foundation for Contemporary Art brought tires and helped us unload them, too.
More tires unloading.
More tires unloading.

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.

Even though the pocket park is gone, the family and community will still have this permanent garden.
Even though the pocket park is gone, the family and community will still have this permanent garden.
The plants for the garden were acquired with funding from our teammate Anthony Tuffour, based in the UK.
The plants for the garden were acquired with funding from our teammate Anthony Tuffour, based in the UK.
Temporary garden features inspired by ideas we saw on Pinterest!
Temporary garden features inspired by ideas we saw on Pinterest!

With the children from the area, we cleaned the tires, and then painted them blue, yellow, red…

Teammate Mae-Ling Lokko paints with kids to create the pocket park.
Teammate Mae-Ling Lokko paints with kids to create the pocket park. Photo by Akua Nyame-Mensah.

We used the space – from a space to relax and eat lunch, to socialize, to play and run around with tires, etc.

These girls used the pocket park to find a quiet space to eat their lunch.
These girls used the pocket park to find a quiet space to eat their lunch.
IMG_2832
Park, in action.

And then we started conversations about how public spaces in Jamestown, and throughout Accra, could be improved.

Hassan Salih of MESH Creative Hub used Accratopia as an opportunity to start discussions on people's visions for the future of Jamestown.
Hassan Salih of MESH Creative Hub used Accratopia as an opportunity to start discussions on people’s visions for the future of Jamestown.

 

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?

More photos:

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  • What was your perception on how people reacted to that space? sure, it was a pleasant space in what seems, according to your description, an area with few public parks, but did they show any hint on whether they thought more such spaces could be permanently transformed, and which ones?. This is not that easy, even in what many assume to be more civilized countries. And also another question: this was public domain land or private land? An interesting experience

  • Great questions. Was actually working on a follow-up post to discuss people’s reactions, thanks so much for asking!

    The car park is private land (owned by a private individual, and there is a park operator who oversees it and charges for parking each weekday).

    Across the board, it was the young people who were really excited and energized and using the park space (sitting and socializing, playing games, playing with the tires and running away with them). Many of them said they liked the space.

    By and large, the adults were less interested in using the space; also, some of them were more interested in trying to regulate the space: Two or three times nearby adult residents tried to send kids away from the park because they were “disrupting the space,” as in, they thought the space should be kept looking nice. To do that, they saw need to keep the young people from using it, especially small kids.

    Some adult residents perceived the park to be for kids (only), and in terms of the features available, the space was more adaptable to young people’s needs. Adults very much gravitate toward shaded seating areas. We had requested some shaded tents/canopies for our car park but they weren’t delivered (logistical issue), and I like to assume that if we’d had those, perhaps more adults would have come and sat down there. As it was, it was completely open and exposed to sun, and warm both days. At the back of the park area, there’s the tall tree that Mr. Adjei planted, and on several occasions during the planning process, adults would be reclined there (this was also the case, to a limited extent, during our park transformation).

    There’s demand to make more permanent park spaces, and residents talked about creating small spaces like this that were more accessible. Note, there are formal parks in Accra, but people wanted places they could walk to, not have to take public transit or drive to. The nearest “park” is a park with a gate fee, and it’s less a public park and more a landscaped garden and museum. About 150 meters down the street from here, there’s a small plaza, Otublohum Square, although pretty run down, and some of us are interested in working with the community to refurbish it. That’s nearby, and people are already using it. The other thing is the community dynamic is very, very local — this park was very much perceived to be for the people within, say, a 50-70 meter radius (Old Kingsway area). Although that nearby plaza isn’t too far away at all, it wouldn’t be considered to belong to all of Jamestown like the people living around Old Kingsway, even though they may go there for activities. It is managed by people who live next to Otublohum, and the people near Otublohum “own” it.

  • How did you arrange things with the space owner, that lost two days of revenue? I just can say it is a far more interesting initiative than going to a parkmeter, put a coin in, and sit on a rug for some hours, which is what parking day seems to be in some places (and I’m not mocking these initiatives, that are also making some people think, it is just that you have gone a few extra miles, it is clear you have a broader view). Congratulations!!

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  • Thank you!! And thanks for another great question.

    A big reason we were able to use this space was because we chose to use it on the weekend, when the car park is already typically pretty empty (non-business hours) and it is typical for youth to come there to hang out, play football there and next door, etc. So we were able to feed into that existing community behavior trend. That said, I’m sure if we’d tried to attempt this on a weekday (actual Parking Day is on a Friday), it would have been a different matter!

    It’s something worth trying though, perhaps next year.

  • Great initiative and post. Excited to see where the next pocket park pops up!

  • Thank you! I welcome your ideas….

  • Great stories, hopefully it will spark the interest for others to take initiative in their neighbourhoods!

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    Congratulations for the post. I would love to go to Accra one day and check out all the vibe and art there, which is enticing…

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