It was a memorable Friday in Alameda.
The day began a week ago as crowds of Island residents lined the shoreline, gathered atop the Alameda Theatre & Cineplex parking lot and walked outside of their homes, apartments, offices, restaurants and businesses to wait until the Endeavour space shuttle made its final voyage. The Endeavour didn't disappoint -- it flew above the Island during midmorning.
The word from witnesses was that the Endeavour literally flew over City Hall, the Police Department and the Alameda Journal building -- they could hear the noisy rumble of the military transport plane. Those lucky enough to think of going on top of the Alameda Theatre's parking lot said the shuttle appeared so close they felt they could have hit it with a rock.
And just as the shuttle was flying overhead, a new tradition was taking root in front of Tucker's Ice Cream on Park Street -- Alameda's first "parklet" -- intended to reclaim parking spaces into temporary public parks and social spaces. It was part of an annual event celebrated around the world called "PARK(ing) Day."
The tradition was begun in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio, as a way of getting people to rethink how streets are used and to promote discussion and debate about changes to the urban infrastructure's congestion and pollution.
Last year's "PARK(ing) Day" event included more than 160 cities on six continents, including Africa, Asia and North and South America. This year, parklets sprung up all over San Francisco and Oakland.
The Alameda parklet was conceived by BikeAlameda board member Donna Eyestone, designed by Planning Board vice president and architect David Burton and Planning Board member (and former Transportation Commission chair) John Knox White. Local donations came from BikeAlameda, Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda, The Reuse People, Urban Island Home Furnishings and Plowshares Nursery.
For 12 hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., when the first pallets were put down in the parking space in front of Tucker's -- and the bales of hay and table were in place along with a chicken -- the parklet became the newest cool place in town for friends, neighbors and strangers to meet, relax and socialize. At times, more than 50 people were seen outside of Tucker's -- and many of them went in to get some ice cream on a sunny, pleasant day. Kids had a great time in the parklet, greeting the chicken, sitting on the bench and drawing colorful scenes in chalk.
It truly became a destination for people to stop and take stock of things without getting caught up in the rush of everyday life. Being at the parklet truly felt like a trip back in time -- when the pace of life was slower, more relaxed and civil.
Burton said he'd never seen so many Alamedans he'd just met while he was hanging out at the parklet. And everyone -- everyone -- was smiling and having a great time.
"This has been a joy," Eyestone told Journal contributor Janet Levaux. "It's not every day that you get to chat about public space with people on the street. This parklet is a great way to visualize the many different uses for public space."
"I wish this was here all the time," said Kate Pryor, owner of Tucker's Ice Cream, told Levaux. "It's like the saying, 'Build it, and they will come.' It just makes so much sense to take space that's normally car oriented and turn it into a really pleasant pedestrian environment."
Congratulations go to Eyestone, Burton and Knox White for making the effort to conceive, design and put together the parklet. It was a great success -- and we look forward to it becoming a new Island tradition.
Jon Kawamoto is the editor of the Alameda Journal.