Flint, MI—A group of local organizations and businesses will be using downtown Flint’s parking spaces for anything but cars this weekend, and they’re asking everyone to join them.

What’s Up Downtown, Communities First, Inc., and the Crim Foundation are just some of the names bringing PARK(ing) Day—a worldwide event that asks people to reimagine and repurpose curbside parking for mini-parks and social spaces—to downtown Flint on Friday, Sept. 16 and Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

While the event began in 2005 as a way to showcase the need for green space and what its San Francisco organizers deemed “more useful ways of occupying” their city’s car infrastructure, Flint organizers are making a distinction as to why they see the event as important for the city.

“PARK(ing) Day matters in a place like Flint because Flint has this problem where there’s tremendous amounts of parking but not enough things to actually park at,” said Travis Gilbert, a Local Initiatives Support Corporation AmeriCorps service member working with Communities First.

Communities First is hosting the weekend’s kick-off event in collaboration with Blueline Donuts, Carriage Town Ministries, and the Crim Foundation on Sept. 16.

From 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Blueline’s parking lot at 604 Garland Street, folks are invited to grab a donut, play lawn games, or just hang out and talk about what they see as other uses for Flint’s hundreds of downtown parking spaces.

Under the new zoning code, [Blueline Donuts] wouldn’t have to have as big a parking lot as they built out,” Gilbert said of why Communities First partnered up on the opening event. “So we thought that it would be interesting to show people what half of that parking lot could be instead of what it is.”

Cade Surface, a city planner with the Crim Foundation and creator of a bike tour entitled “Flint’s Glorious Legacy of [Foolish] Parking Lots,” noted that Flint’s abundance of downtown parking hasn’t always been there, even during the height of the city’s car production.

“We just, over the years, decided that instead of buildings, or theaters, or homes, or offices, or restaurants or schools, that it was more important that we can store our cars,” Surface said of Flint’s downtown landscape from the 1950s to today. 

The reason for participating in PARK(ing) Day, then, explained Surface, is to encourage Flint residents to reconsider how they’ve been using—and could otherwise use—downtown’s parking spaces even beyond the curb.

A map of downtown Flint’s parking areas in 1958 created by Cade Surface and Travis Gilbert. The dark red represents surface lots and the orange represents parking structures. The highways on the right hand side of the image did not exist at the time. (Courtesy Cade Surface and Travis Gilbert)
A map of downtown Flint’s parking and surrounding areas in 2022, which Surface and Gilbert are continuing to develop. The dark red represents surface lots, the orange represents parking structures, and the lighter orange represents the addition of highways since the 1958 map. Note: the area depicted here is larger than the area depicted in the 1958 map. (Courtesy Cade Surface and Travis Gilbert)

To that end, What’s Up Downtown Flint, the city’s placemaking organization, is working with many other local organizations to turn downtown’s parking spaces into event sites, grassy lounge areas, stages and more this Saturday.

“We’re going to have yoga, open mics, live music,” said Jerin Sage, What’s Up Downtown’s newly appointed Director of Placemaking.

Sage clarified that he will be at PARK(ing) Day to support, not manage, the repurposing of downtown’s parking spots because he hopes that other residents and businesses will join the event organically. 

“If I can see more than just What’s Up Downtown participating, I would call that a success,” Sage said. “Because the whole idea is to get the community to engage with their public spaces downtown, and to show the powers-that-be and the rest of the community that we are willing to come out, to have fun and to utilize the spaces that we do have.”

Sage added that he felt the day was important for Flint because he’d learned that what seems like public space downtown actually isn’t, noting that downtown’s Brush Park and “even the area around the statues” near the Flat Lot are privately owned.

“It’s about access,” Sage said. “[It’s about] highlighting the fact that we need public spaces that people can actually use and have access to.”

For more information, including safety instructions, on how to participate in PARK(ing) Day, visit What’s Up Downtown’s event calendar or PARK(ing) Day’s official website

“Oh, and so no one has to come out and measure like I did,” Sage said with a laugh. “All of downtown’s parking spots are 23 feet long by seven feet wide.”

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Kate Stockrahm

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....