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Park It 

Competition draws attention to city’s parklet program.

click to enlarge This year's runner-up, a joint installation by HKS Architects and DPR Construction, used recycled cardboard tubes to artistically invert the canopy.

Ash Daniel

This year's runner-up, a joint installation by HKS Architects and DPR Construction, used recycled cardboard tubes to artistically invert the canopy.

Last Friday, some 300 demonstrators protested global inaction on climate change at Capitol Square. When they took to the streets, they found another group of people concerned about the climate: Park(ing) Day celebrants.

Twenty-two parklets, or small parks in parking spaces, were installed mostly in downtown Richmond for the annual event. Max Hepp-Buchanan, Venture Richmond’s director of riverfront and downtown placemaking, was the organizer.

While Park(ing) Day is about rethinking space devoted to car storage, organizers also wanted to draw attention to the city parklet program, which permits three-year parklets if neighbors approve.

It was a big change from last year. At an after-party announcing the prizewinners, Yessenia Revilla, a city planner who heads up the city parklet program, says that last year they had only one park and it was a lot of work.

“It was better this year, planned by someone from the community,” she says. “We’re going to hope Max will do it every year now. We couldn’t be happier.”

The grand-prize winners were Walter Parks Architects, who built a gauzy space with hammocks and porch swings. On a visit that afternoon, the only park visitor was taking a nap. Architect Sean Wheeler explained the inspiration at Bar Solita, during the after-party. “I saw a Wall Street Journal headline, the automobile killed the front porch,” he says. “This was our response.”

For their prize, they’ll receive support from Venture Richmond and the city to develop a one-year installation at a suitable downtown parking space.

The runner-up, a joint installation by HKS Architects and DPR Construction in Shockoe Slip, took a cue from the street tree above, using recycled cardboard tubes to invert the canopy. Visitors were bathed in blue and green filtered light. Nick Cooper, a vice president at HKS who developed the concept, estimates 165 hours of work went into their runner-up park.

An Instagrammer who says he reports one cool thing a day for his followers walked over from his office. Posing with the designers, he greets his followers like a TV reporter at a county fair.

“Hey, what’s up? I’m here with my boys at Tubular Park,” he says, before a shout-out for Greta Thurnberg, the Swedish teenager who inspired the global climate march. “They’re standing with her, supporting Greta, come on out, boys!”

Other visitors, like Karen Hall and Jeff Saxman, came by bike. They didn’t have a favorite yet, but Hall gave special credit to a park near Bottom’s Up Pizza installed by Buddy, a start-up offering recreational activity insurance for athletes.

“They’re using all native plants,” she says. She came out because she “like(s) the city and I like the idea of a park on every corner.”

“And it’s an excuse to get out on bikes,” Saxman adds.

Like a lot of Richmonders, Hall and Saxman moved back to the city as empty nesters.

“There’s cool, fun stuff to do in the city,” Hall says. “You don’t get things like this out in Midlothian.”

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