Click here to view all photos
in slideshow by Chris Serik.
I have to admit, I was rather skeptical of the entire Park(ing) Day concept in the days leading up to the event. I seemed like just another exercise in green futility: good intentions wrapped in the idealism of collegiate exuberance, distributed to like-minded individuals with extra care not to ruffle any feathers along the way. Our banishment from the greater Philadelphia Park(ing) Day participants, due to our late arrival and associated liability concerns, did not help matters any. It is always comforting to be a fool in the company of fools, rather than a lonely fool mimicking the activities of a bunch of fools across town who didn't have room on their release forms for our foolishness.
In addition to these conceptual concerns, I was having trouble arranging a picture in my head of how these pieces were going to fit together into a cohesive unit that was both pleasing to the eye and compelling enough for people to take time out of their day to participate meaningfully. On the day of the event, however, the many pieces of Park(ing) Day seemed to fall into place with little effort, like a jigsaw puzzle dumped onto the asphalt in perfect order. The portions of the exhibit constructed by my classmates were light years beyond my expectations in terms of quality and relevance; and the park took on a deeper and more palatable shade of green thanks to the help of a local gardening center that loaned a majority of the plants within the exhibit.
These developments produced a profound change of heart and as the day wore on I found myself taking some pride in our efforts and engaging passersby with that sentiment worn conspicuously on my sleeve. But the event did not reveal its full promise until late in the afternoon, when my wife and son arrived.
The local news cameraman in attendance was filming my son, Henry, tottering through our little park when I had an epiphany of sorts. As I knelt down to steady my 10-month old, the blur of the passing traffic and din of their engines gave the impression that our little park was under siege. My son, oblivious to all but the leaves and flowers at the tips of his tiny fingers, suddenly became a symbol of Innocence in a Paradise Lost. It was almost as if he was seeking refuge from the storm of human progress swirling around him in our modest little oasis.
Not being particularly full of religion, I had always wondered what kind of wisdom I could pass down to my son, what kind of sage-like advice I could possibly muster while maintaining a straight face. And here it was. Respect for the natural world and its integral place within the human experience is a value of the highest order, one well worth passing on to the next generation. The fact that people all over the country were simultaneously erecting protest parks in parking spaces was a clear symptom of the deep imbalance that human activities had imposed on the planet and its evolutionarily honed systems.
As I plucked my son up from the walkway, I made a solemn oath to teach him a better way. To show him that progress is not always defined by economic growth or dollars and cents. To teach him that the current paradigm of human progress will eventually crash headlong into the very real limits of a finite Earth, flipping civilization on its head and giving the impression that we had been descending all along. To instill in him that every patch of green was worth saving from the lacquer of concrete and steel dripping across the earthly realm in complex gobs of greed, subsistence, and foolishness.
So what began as an exercise in futility approached with a cynically raised eyebrow, ended as an occasion for high-minded rhetoric and solemn oaths to future generations. What a difference a Park(ing) Day makes.
December 16, 2008