News / City Life

Meet the Londoner who turned a parking space into a public garden

Brenda Puech, People Parking Bay
Andy Parsons

When green campaigner Brenda Puech turned a parking spot outside her house into a tiny garden, she sparked a row with the council and a debate about who deserves space on London’s streets…

‘Last summer, I set up a mini garden in a parking space next to London Fields. I’d been thinking about it for a long time. I didn’t have a car, and I wanted to show how a parking space could be used for something else. In Hackney, where I live, there are more than twice as many households that don’t own a car as ones that do. Yet nearly all our kerbside space is devoted to car parking. I couldn’t shake off the feeling of what a waste of precious space it was!

I tried to buy an annual parking permit from Hackney Council to use the space, but they refused to let me have one because I didn’t have or want a car. So I decided to take the initiative and converted a parking space directly outside my home into a garden.

The space was usually vacant, so I knew that using it would cause minimal inconvenience to my car-owning neighbours. On May 26, at the start of the summer, I officially launched the People Parking Bay: a patch of artificial grass the size of a car, with flowerpots, a bench and table, a bright red umbrella and a large sign that read “You’re welcome to park yourself on the bench.”

In my ideal world, I’d love to see more kids playing in the streets and people using them as a place to sit or exercise. Over the course of the summer I got my wish. People used the Parking Bay as a resting point on the way back from shopping or cycling; mums used it to feed their babies; locals watered the plants. One couple had their first date there. Some people left books and it became a mini-library. People even used the bay as a community noticeboard. I’m proud of how it became a focal point, where you’d see complete strangers smiling and talking to each other.

The reaction of residents was astonishingly positive. At first I’d find feedback on bits of paper sellotaped to the bay, so I decided to leave a visitor book on the table. Five books filled up within four weeks. Most people said they thought the bay was a brilliant idea, and wished that there were more of them around. 

Despite all that positivity, I’ve had to keep fighting for the People Parking Bay to exist. In June I was faced with an eviction notice. I set up a petition, which got hundreds of signatures within the first few days, but throughout the summer I had to move the bay to three or four different locations in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Eventually, despite pleading with the Mayor of Hackney and local councillors to allow the bay to stay, it ended up being dismantled.

Because of all the support I’d received, the council asked to meet me. While they said what I’d done was illegal, they admired the idea, and I pressed for them to launch a system of ‘parklet’ permits which residents could pay for to install their own People Parking Bay. 

There’s no mini-garden now: I’ve had to bring it into my front yard, and sadly it’s not open to the public. When a parklet like mine has been so transformational for a local community, it’s such a shame the council insists on disposing of it. But if I hadn’t set up the People Parking Bay, people wouldn’t have realised it was even a possibility. Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.’

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Comments

6 comments
YK L

Good for you Brenda for doing this! What a great idea and how lovely that it brought so many from within your community together 😊 Shame the council couldn’t get on board with this (probably because there was nothing in it for them). We need more people like you in this world!

payprit

The government is or has set up a "Loneliness" policy to tackle the issue throughout the country.  Our WI made that one of their commitments for 2017 for our wee little country hamlet.

Looks like the People's Parking Bay was one way people began to communicate, take part.  Part of the attraction of this could be of course, that it is a little naughty, like a mini revolution.  Wonder if the public park in the distance has the same impact as it relates to citizens taking part in something where they can personally interact.  Good fun, in my opinion.  Jolly old elderly person,.

Brenda P

@payprit Thank you. Yes, it is amazing how many people ended up talking to strangers on or around the bay. It made people smile, gasp and laugh and start talking to each other. Yes, a lot had to do with the fact that it was an act of rebellion. I met so many new people as I walked out to tend the plants. Absolutely a cure for a lot of loneliness to have at least one on every street. 

Brenda P

@Catherine G Thanks Catherine, yes that's true. Many have commented on this. Yes, I happen to live facing a park and a row of parking spaces between me and the park. However, what I created was a small intimate defined gathering space that is not possible in a large park. Also directly in line with schools and shops. People liked the seat with table that they can put things on, and the umbrella giving them shelter, and the books to read, and most of all the radical nature of the idea. I guess it's why at a party people cluster in the kitchen rather than the larger living space. Children liked it particularly I could never figure out why. They sat down and would not leave. Have a read of the visitor books. http://bit.ly/PPPvisitorbook