Parklets and more: learning from the New Partners for Smart Growth conference

March 6, 2017
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At the beginning of February 2017, the Residential Energy Program Manager, Larissa Johnson, attended the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in St. Louis to share her experiences hosting outreach events in Montgomery County, like Energy Exploration, and to learn from others around the country. Let’s hear from Larissa about her experience at the conference.


Energy Parklet

Prior to attending the event, I partnered with KaBOOM! to create a parklet at the Smart Growth Conference in St. Louis. Our parklet connects people to energy and movement.

What is a parklet you ask?

According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, “Parklets are parking space-sized areas used for recreational, community gathering, or beautification purposes that assist in bringing awareness to the quantity of community space that is devoted to parking rather than vibrant urban green space. These small urban parks are created by replacing a parking spot with a variety of elements (planters, trees, benches, children’s play areas, artwork, bicycle parking, and more!).

Parklets evolved from an annual event where citizens, artists, and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces. Following the success of the first 2005 intervention, PARK(ing) Day has grown into a global movement” Last year, DEP and other County agencies hosted Park(ing) spaces throughout the county.

The specific parklet that I worked on was called Creating Energy and Excitement in PLAYces.

“Energy is something that we use and create daily. When we take the opportunity to exert energy at public spaces like bus stops, health clinics, sidewalks, and streetscapes, we are able to transform places of potential frustration into moments of joy. While interacting in this PLAYce, ask yourself “How complete are our public spaces if we don’t use them to their full potential?” and “Is there a way to capture the energy we exude to power the things we need like cell phones and tablets?”


Breakout Sessions: What I Learned

Along with hosting a parklet for the length of the conference, I had the opportunity to network with many amazing people (including Hootie the Owl), hear amazing Keynote speakers and attended a bunch of sessions. There were two sessions, in particular, that will help inform the work I am doing in Montgomery County.

Embedding Arts into Community Development

After attending the session “Embedding Arts into Community Development” and working with KaBOOM! to create the parklet, I am even more convinced that creative placemaking is something that will resonate with County residents. There is one organization, ArtPlace America, who have been making transformative change around community development for over ten years. They even have a project in Takoma Park!

We are excited at the potential of creating projects that combine art, design, energy, and fun to help promote the energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables so be on the lookout for that!

Marketing and Design in Government

The other session that made an impact was “Marketing and Design in Government.” As a County employee, I am here for residents and this session reinforced that message and gave concrete examples from Los Angeles of how government employees are often seen as a barrier and that the only way you can get around that is make the experience personal. That is the reason why all of the outreach events that we do are interactive, engaging and always performed with a smile.

Conferences like this allow us to hear about new practices, research based studies, and network with people from the country doing similar projects and I was grateful to participate.

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