PORTLAND — As the manager of a store on Fore Street, Candy Fontaine knows that on-street parking is important to her business.

But she’s all for giving up a space along her stretch of the street Friday in the name of urban beautification.

“We make popcorn inside — we’ll bring it outside and we’ll have a party,” said Fontaine, manager of the Life Is Good store. “It sounds like it will be a lot of fun.”

On Friday, groups will fan out to six spots in the city to create “parklets” as part of a worldwide “Park(ing) Day.” The movement started in San Francisco, where residents of a particularly congested and gritty area decided in 2005 to briefly claim a little open space.

They put money in a meter, laid out dirt and sod and set up a potted tree and a bench, creating an instant park.

Two hours later, when the meter expired, they rolled up the sod, shoveled off the dirt, removed the tree and the bench, and returned the parking spot to its former, well, glory.

Sarah Schindler, an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Law, brought the idea east with her when she moved from San Francisco to Portland a couple of years ago.

This summer, she set up a page on Facebook and invited interested would-be urban planners to sign up. In short order, Portland was one of dozens of cities involved with Park(ing) Day 2012.

Last year, nearly 1,000 parklets were built, in 162 cities in 35 countries.

“A lot of it is about creativity,” Schindler said, but the largely unspoken purpose of the movement is to get people to think about how much urban space is given over to moving and storing cars.

“We have all this space that could be activated by people,” she said. “Let’s start the conversation about that.”

The space on Fore Street will be occupied Friday by Christian MilNeil, who will use it to highlight a lack of housing in the city. He plans to build a framed efficiency apartment in his space, with some furniture and house plants.

MilNeil said city figures show there are about 8,000 city-owned parking spaces on Portland’s peninsula which he figures works out to about 25 acres. That land could be used for parks, housing or offices, he said.

“It’s a lot of real estate, and very valuable real estate,” MilNeil said.

Schindler said the movement is decentralized and none of the organizers is interested in dictating how to use the parking spaces.

Her Facebook event page simply set out the idea of Park(ing) Day and invited people to sign up for it. She said the small group of organizers debated whether to seek city approval or engage in “guerilla urbanism” by having people simply go out, claim spaces and make parks.

“There’s a lot of power behind guerilla urbanism, but in some ways, there’s more power behind cities working with residents to enhance the urban environment for everybody,” she said.

The city issued permits for $15 — the value of a day’s parking revenue — per space, said Nicole Clegg, Portland’s spokeswoman.

Clegg said the city often allows people to reserve a space for a day — for a moving van, for instance. Portland had no problem approving the parklet idea, she said, as long as the spaces get cleared out and cleaned up at the end of the day.

Schindler said she expects the parking spaces to be put to a wide variety of uses. She said many in the movement discourage the original approach because spreading dirt and sod for a single day’s use isn’t environmentally sound.

Among the plans for Portland, she said, are MilNeil’s apartment; a “lounge” with seats, books and a typewriter; and a basic community gathering spot.

Mark Giroux of Windham, who was sitting in a car waiting for a friend on Fore Street on Wednesday afternoon, said he’s all for the idea.

“Portland is a diverse city and there has been all kinds of change, most of it for the better,” he said.

If he’s looking for a parking spot Friday and it’s occupied by an apartment, “I can go find a spot and walk where I’m going,” Giroux said.

Fontaine, at Life Is Good, said the oddity of the event will outweigh the loss of any parking space.

“Most people, when they come to Portland, don’t expect to find parking anyway,” she said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]


This article was corrected on June 3, 2013 to correct the name of law professor Sarah Schindler, who had been erroneously referred to as Susan Schindler.

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