It looked like yet another weird symptom of San Francisco tech culture: a cluster of people sitting on the side of a road, working at desks placed within the boundaries of a parking space.
But WePark—a project led by San Francisco-based web developer Victor Pontis—was actually a manifestation of an idea that has become more popular in the last few years: Cities use space inefficiently and prioritize cars over people. The people at the desks were attempting to reclaim a sliver of space for human use. “Car parking squanders space that can be used for the public good—bike lanes, larger sidewalks, retail, cafes, more housing,” Pontis said. “Let’s use city streets for people, not cars.” (There are also WePark franchises in France as well as Santa Monica.)
Pontis said he got the idea from a Twitter exchange in which Github’s Devon Zuegel pointed out that eight bicycles could fit in one park spot instead of a car. Urbanist Annie Fryman, responded, suggesting that the metered parking spot be used as a coworking space instead.
Pontis turned that hypothetical into a reality, choosing popular real estate like Santa Monica’s Ocean Avenue. The set-up was simple: he paid for a day’s worth of parking meter, then charged users people per hour. He said 30 people showed up on the first day in the three cities, paying the $2.25 per hour fee that WePark charged for a spot at a parking lot desk. (Paying for a desk at a regular coworking space, like WeWork is approximately $50 per day plus a monthly membership fee.)
In one sense, the whole thing was a stunt meant to highlight how urban spaces might be better used. But stunt or not, that didn’t stop fans from asking about spaces in their own locations—whether in Ireland, the UK or Portland.
If you’re about to say that this will never work in the long run, WePark knows. “I don’t want to be working out of parking spots every day. The cars driving by make the street loud, smelly and dangerous,” Pontis said. But the experiment still had a point. “Our goal is to make a sustainable improvement to our public spaces. How can we take parking spots and transform them into places that people seek to visit every day?”
Similar initiatives have looked at reforming curbs, parking lots, and vacant lots. Especially now that rideshare, bikeshare and scooters have become more popular, many urbanites are pointing out that owning—and having to park a car is becoming less necessary.
What was once viewed as a requirement for living might soon be seen as an inconvenience. And if cities can really move away from cars for good, what could materialize in the spaces now reserved for them?
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