All in all, Friday proved to be a pleasant day at Echo Park in downtown Corvallis. The weather was fine, there was free pizza, a cornhole setup was available, the turf was in good shape, the dogs were well-behaved, the conversation was flowing and there were lots of passersby to chat with.
And no, you won’t find Echo Park on any maps — or the city’s website.
Echo Park only existed Friday as bicycle and neighborhood activists “bought” a city parking space on Southwest Second Street and set up the park. More than 200 square feet of sod was brought in by the Oregon State University Turf Club and laid down on a plastic sheet.
The project was inspired by International PARK(ing) Day, with similar events happening worldwide. This was the first such event in Corvallis.
“We are doing this to demonstrate how interesting place-making can happen by converting just one space for one day,” said Jay Thatcher, one of the organizers and a member of the city’s transportation system plan update steering committee. “When a place we used to drive mindlessly past starts grabbing our interest, relationships develop with the place and the people there. That builds a corner of our city into somewhere exciting and enhances safety.”
And downtown business activity. By the noon hour approximately 20 people had ridden or walked into the park, with most of them buying lunch or coffee at New Morning Bakery or American Dream Pizza. Indeed, Judy Dugan, another of the organizers, was sporting the classic American Dream salad and a slice when the Gazette-Times dropped by.
So that’s 20 downtown business customers without a single additional vehicle on what is almost always a crowded street.
Organizers, who were reimbursed for their expenses by the transportation action team of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, paid the city $25 for a one-day permit to use the parking space.
“We’re getting a kick out of you buying your own space,” Thatcher said he was told by the folks at the Public Works Department.
“This is a natural place for people to hang out,” said Susan Christie, bike mirror still attached to her glasses. “We’re just here spending time in the park.”
“Everybody is positive. They like it,” Thatcher said. “But they are a little shy.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice if this was permanent?” Dugan said.
Some of the comments from passersby are worth noting. One person said that the grass was unlikely to grow atop the street. Another said he parks in the space most days before heading into New Morning.
An employee of the Citizens Bank just across the city parking lot had been deputized by her co-workers to walk over at lunch time and find out what was going on. Thatcher gave her a briefing.
“You’ve got a nice little spot here,” said one passerby before adding, “Oh, I see, it’s a political thing.”
“We’re doing a creative thing to make use of a public space,” Christie said. “We’re focusing on people, rather than cars and showing what can happen.”
So what was the group hoping to achieve?
“I think we’ve already achieved it,” Dugan said. “So many people came by, appeared to like it and want it to happen again.”
And next year?
“Maybe we can do it on campus,” said Linda Johansen, who was comfortably ensconced on a cushion on the seat of her three-wheeler, eating a New Morning salad.
Johansen also named the park for her 11.5-year-old border collie, who was lying serenely at her feet.
“It’s not so much that we are ridiculing parking as much as having some fun with it,” Thatcher said.