Encouraging green space over asphalt

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Anissa Duwaik relaxes in a parking space Friday along Sherman Avenue with her son Jaddin, 3, and her dog Rosko. The display locally was part of a nationwide event called PARK(ing), that saw artists, activists and citizens temporarily transform parking spaces into public parks and other social spaces.

COEUR d'ALENE - It was your typical, idyllic North Idaho scene.

There sat Wes Hanson, peacefully playing his Native America flute on some plush, green grass on a cloudy Friday morning. Next to him was a picnic table with a newspaper and backgammon set, a couple wooden benches and a spruce bush.

All of this right next to Lake Coeur d'Alene.

But before you decide to join him, know this: Hanson's setting was on the black asphalt of the parking lot at Independence Point, and it was all delivered to make a point, to get people thinking about this: Less asphalt, fewer cars, more green space, is good.

"There's certain areas we're sacrificing to cars, and this is a primary one," the Coeur d'Alene artist said as he looked toward the lake. "People ought to be able to walk around here, enjoy the lake and not be bothered by gas fumes."

Carol Muzik, who brought some of the outdoor furniture to Independence Point from her Rockford Bay home, agreed.

"We're just trying to create a little park space out of a parking lot to create some awareness, to not pave our paradise," she said. "Cars have the best spot here."

The display locally was part of a nationwide event called PARK(ing) Day, that saw artists, activists and citizens temporarily transform parking spaces into public parks and other social spaces.

It was invented in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio, to challenge "people to rethink the way streets are used and reinforces the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure.

"In urban centers around the world, inexpensive curbside parking results in increased traffic, wasted fuel and more pollution," Rebar's Matthew Passmore said in a press release. "The strategies that generated these conditions are not sustainable, nor do they promote a healthy, vibrant human habitat. PARK(ing) Day is about re-imagining the possibilities of the urban landscape."

Kootenai Environmental Alliance partnered with local residents Friday to take over parking spaces in downtown Coeur d'Alene, including Front Avenue, Fourth Street and Sherman Avenue.

"The city of Coeur d'Alene is home to an overabundance and a wide variety of wasteful expanses of asphalt, and Kootenai Environmental Alliance simply seeks to encourage the rethinking of parking and the re-emphasis of parks for a better community," the release said.

LeeJa Junker helped turned a corner parking space near Fourth and Front into a more relaxed setting with bark, artwork, plants and chairs.

He pointed across the Third Street parking lot to the lake and shook his head.

"This is what people come here for - that right over there, and it's not used for that," he said.

"Instead of all these parking spaces, break it up with a little ingenuity, be a little more creative."

On Sherman near Java on Fourth, Anissa Duwaik sat serenely holding her son Jaddin, with their dog Rosko at her feet. Where cars or trucks would normally be parked, instead rested wicker chairs and tables and a carpet to cover the pavement.

With traffic rolling steadily past just a few feet away, Duwaik said it would be nice if the downtown area was more of a walking community.

She visited Sandpoint last weekend, and said drivers there do a good job stopping for pedestrians.

"I think downtown has a lot of potential. We've got the lake right there but have no way of actually seeing the lake from here," she said.

Doug Eastwood, city parks director, said the city does have an abundance of parking lots that don't get used all the time.

He said rather than maintaining asphalt for parking, open green space could provide avenues for residents to enjoy leisure activities.

"There's myriad uses we can create," Eastwood said.

He recently returned from a trip to Vancouver, B.C., and said most of its parking lots are underground.

"You don't see a lot of blacktop in British Columbia," Eastwood said.

He likes the PARK(ing) day because it gets people to ask this question:

"What if?"

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