After a one-year break, Downtown Long Beach once again played host to International Park(ing) Day, an event designed to re-envision how space dedicated to a car culture could be transformed into other uses — including incorporating more Mother Nature. 

This year’s Park(ing) Day, held on September 17 at the Friday Farmers Market on the Promenade, focused on composting and encouraging Downtown businesses and residents to grow plants in small spaces. “I’m a promoter of urban farming,” said Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) Placemaking Manager Stephanie Gonzalez, who spearheaded this year’s effort. “Tower gardens, small potted gardens on balconies, and parklet gardens all contribute to sourcing food and helping the environment with greenery that absorbs toxins. Composting helps reduce landfill waste; There has definitely been an increase in waste production these last couple of years.”   

DLBA worked closely on the event with Kelli Johnson, Market Manager for Long Beach-based Harbor Area Farmers Markets, which opened its first farmers market in Downtown Long Beach in 1980. It was one of the first modern-era markets in the state. Johnson enlisted the help of Lindsay Smith, master composter and co-founder of Sowing Seeds of Change Urban Farm, located on the west side of Downtown.  

Event attendees were educated about composting and were encouraged to collect food scraps and other compostable waste to bring to the Friday Farmers Market, helping build up the compost at Sowing Seeds of Change. They were also invited to take home plant seedlings, with the hope that it would inspire them to create their own urban gardens. 

Gonzalez sees a botanical silver lining in the effects of the pandemic; “Many people were home a lot, and were buying plants as something to care for,” she said. “There are now plant shops popping up all over town. For this year’s Park(ing) Day, we wanted to look specifically at food-producing plants and compost, which are things you can manage in a small apartment. It’s easy to have a small container of scraps which you can bring to the Downtown Farmers Market once a week. It’s also simple to grow food in a small-but-sunny space.”

For future Park(ing) Days, Gonzalez hopes to branch out into other aspects of urban planting, working with Downtown businesses that are interested in growing food in their newly-created street parklets. She also wants to focus on Downtown trees. “My hope and goal for the coming year is to really improve on our Downtown tree care — planting and maintenance — and build up our urban canopy,” she said.  

Johnson elaborated on the importance of a healthy Downtown tree canopy. “Well-chosen and cared for, street trees tell the community how to feel about their neighborhood,” she said. “They tell the community how their city feels about them. Trees and landscape hold a universal gift to those who bask in their shade, view their beauty and care for their needs. As the environmental advocacy group TreePeople says, “Trees need people, and people need trees!”

“I love the idea of Park(ing) Day,” added Johnson.”It illustrates what can be done in a small urban footprint. It is a moment for everyone to imagine different ways of community engagement, and new ways of enjoying nature and sourcing food.”