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Friday, September 16, 2011

Humans Take Over S.F. Parking Spaces: Mad Men Offices, Petting Zoos, and Free Spaghetti

Posted By on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 2:30 PM

That's mad, man! Will Godfrey's new office.
  • That's mad, man! Will Godfrey's new office.

It was business as usual for Will Godfrey. Well, except that his office was in a parking spot on Sansome Street, had no roof, and looked like it had been lifted straight from the set of Mad Men.

"You can sit down," he said, gesturing to the modern red and orange chairs surrounding him.

Work outside on a sunny Friday morning in a 1960s office space? Who was spying on our dreams and turning them into reality? Woody Allen, is that you?

Alas, this was not the San Francisco version of Midnight in Paris. Rather, throughout the city and the nation today, people are celebrating PARK(ing) Day by converting metered parking spaces into parks, offices, or whatever they desire -- as long as it is within legal limits and gets the community to rethink what can be done with urban space.

Godfrey's company, MKThink, got on board and, indeed, went with a Mad Men theme, with some necessary modern-day modifications (including Godfrey's laptop and the wireless he was routing from his, um, other office).

In 2005, PARK(ing) Day was confined to one spot, on Mission between 1st and 2nd streets -- an area the city had designated as lacking green space. Matthew Passmore, 41, and a small team from his design studio Rebar converted the area into a park for as long as the paid meter would allow.

"It was an experiment to get people to consider how much of our city is dedicated to automobiles and how little of it is for people to socialize," Passmore told SF Weekly.

The concept exploded. Last year, 850 parks were created in 150 cities.

"It hit a nerve with people in cities worldwide," Passmore said. "People in all cities are experiencing the same conditions and pressures related to pollution and traffic congestion. They're realizing the strategies we've been using to design our cities are not sustainable anymore."

The event is said to be open sourced, meaning that anyone can replicate the project.

"PARK(ing) Day is the best day for parking space takeovers," said Justin Carder, the manager and publishing director for nonprofit 826 Valencia's Pirate Store.

"Car with Brake Lights and You Don't Know if It's Going to Leave Day is way less fun," he quipped.

Though 826 Valencia did not make its own installation, for years, other groups have come to set up pirate-inspired parks outside. One year, there was a pirate ship with free spaghetti. This time, Carder said, an architectural firm used pallets, complete with signs about recycling and reuse.

At Ritual Coffee Roasters on Valencia, there's a new storefront, petting zoo, hay barrels, and a sheep named Sean. Barista Aaron Vandergroen said the company has been participating for four years.

PARK(ing) Day takes place on a Friday because it's the most relaxed day of the work week, Passmore explained. The weekend would not have attract nearly as much attention, because people are either at home or already outside.

"It's a quintessential San Francisco invention," Passmore said. "It's about participation, generosity, humor, and fun."

Tomorrow, it will be as if the Mad Men office were never there. But at least there's International Talk Like a Pirate Day to look forward to Monday, Sept. 19.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Taylor Friedman

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