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The Parkolation Project

It isn’t every day that a metered parking space in Boston is outfitted with a hammock, cardboard constructed chairs, and a paper maché meter that accepts dollars. But last week, as part of Park(ing) Day, an international day of re-envisioning public space, teaching artist Wilhelmina Peragine, Ed.M.’13, and students from Boston Green Academy in South Boston, took the first step toward a city with fewer parking spots and, well, more parks.

After working for two weeks using recycled materials to create the temporary park, the students hope to raise $28,000 by January to design a “parklet” – a permanent mini-park – in a metered parking space in the Ashmont area of Boston, under the guidance from Copley Wolff Design Group and volunteers from Boston Architectural College and Harvard Graduate School of Design. The movement behind mini-parks in metered spaces aims to raise awareness about a need for more human-centered, green, and accessible public space.

“Typically, a parklet is designed by a high-end firm – not young people,” Peragine said. “Watching students engage in this project affirms my belief that all kids deserve real-world learning opportunities, which are often in short supply in schools. This project also gives young people a say about what happens in their neighborhood.”

The roots of the Parkolation Project began when Peragine was at HGSE. The painter and dancer heard about the concept of parklets from a relative living in San Francisco, where the phenomenon has caught on. There are over 100 parklets throughout San Francisco. Working alongside Danna Ortiz, Ed.M.’13, in Professor Fernando Reimers' course on social innovation, they came up with a business model around high school students designing and building parklets. However, it wasn’t until she mentioned the project to colleagues at VSA Massachusetts: The State Organization on Arts and Disability where she was an intern that it began to take hold.

“In many schools, especially Boston high schools, arts classes are not offered,” Peragine said. Teaching artists in schools provide education and access to the arts in a less traditional way by working with classroom teachers to integrate arts into the curriculum.

Reflecting on the need to physically construct things in order to build understanding, which Peragine learned in a course with Assistant Professor Karen Brennan, the project began to take form. Beyond the arts connection, the project also provides teaching and learning opportunities tied to civic engagement, collaboration, and creative thinking, all 21st-century skills.

Though Boston Green Academy students began working on the project only two weeks ago, environmental science teacher Anna Golden has already witnessed changes in her students. “They are taking ownership of the project and leadership roles, which is something they often struggle with,” she said. “They are really engaged.”

While the students – many of whom have emotional and behavioral disorders – are classified as at-risk for dropping out, Golden said she can see growth in their engagement to the point where they are actually talking about science and the environment outside of class. Their investment in the project is palpable. As Golden pointed out, many of the students stayed around the temporary parklet long after the school day was over.

The public also stopped during the busy lunch hour and listened to students explain the importance of the project before dropping a few dollars in the paper maché meter.

“We are going to try our best – the sky is the limit,” said Dewayne Rogers, a senior at Boston Green Academy, about the fundraising. So far, Rogers, has enjoyed the hands-on aspects of the project, as well as its creativity, which he hopes will inspire people and help the environment. “This can really be benefitting everything and everyone,” he added.

For more information about the Parkolation Project, visit: http://www.parkolationproject.com/.