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reflections on park(ing) day and healthy cities

On 20 September 2013, the Department of Planning and Corporation of Hamilton, as well as businesses, community groups and individuals, collaborated to celebrate PARK(ing) Day for the first time. PARK(ing) Day began in San Francisco in 2005 when one metred parking space was converted into a mini-park for two hours. It is now a worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public open space in 162+ cities (last count in 2011).

reid street, hamiltonThe Department of Planning took the opportunity to ask the public for answers to this question: "If this wasn't a space for parking cars, I would use it for _______". Planning received 90 responses, six of which essentially said "Keep the parking. We need it and more!". Other, more interesting, responses included: have a promenade, plants and benches, busking, open air cafes and so on. Click here to review the full list.

This made me think. What is it about Bermudians and parking? Hamilton must be the tiniest capital city in the world and yet there is near hysteria at the thought of less parking in the City. Of walking from a car parked, say, at Bull's Head to Church Street. Or from a car at Cavendish to Burnaby Hill. Really? You can't make it?

Now, clearly, those with physical challenges are restricted in their options but what excuse do the rest of us have?

Which led me to another consideration. Why do we think automatically in terms of vehicular travel? Why is there no habit of walking? Of cycling? The Dutch automatically pedal cycle everywhere - in all weather - with multiple children, groceries and book bags.

Do Bermudians avoid walking around Hamilton because we are lazy? Unfit? (Not sure which is worse.)

I studied and worked in Canada at a time when the Healthy Cities movement was just starting. My initial reaction to the "Keep car parking" advocates of PARK(ing) Day was to advocate, in turn, in favour of embracing the Healthy Cities/Healthy Communities movement. This is much more than a hospital-based approach to individual healthful living; rather, it is a comprehensive view of community health.

The movement is based on precepts set out in The Ottawa Charter (a declaration developed during a World Health Organisation conference in the Canadian capital in 1986), which are: peace, shelter, education, food, a stable ecosystem, social justice and equity.

These are meaningful, though challenging, rules to live by but we should embrace them. Concepts like walking will become less scary.

Wonder what reflections PARK(ing) Day will stimulate next year...?