On Monday, April 29, San Francisco workers from various industries–tech, investing, design, activism–gathered near Civic Center to work for the day. This is not unusual: Of any city in the U.S., San Francisco has the highest proportion of coworking spaces relative to its population, and it’s pretty common for freelancers and remote employees to find themselves working in close proximity to each other, but not exactly together.
But the gathering on Monday was different. For one thing, it happened outside: Workers congregated around tables set up for the day in an empty parking space. And while all the participants were working on their own projects, together, they were collectively and concertedly proving two points: one about the high cost of coworking spaces in an already unaffordable city, and another about how the space currently dedicated to on-street parking in cramped cities like San Francisco could be put to better and more human-centric use.
This was the official launch of an initiative called WePark, which raises the question: “What if we used parking for…anything else?” On April 25, the San Francisco-based coder Victor Pontis, sick of working from his apartment but unable to afford a membership to a coworking space like WeWork (which can cost upwards of $400, while rents in the city average around $3,800), dragged a table and chair out to a vacant parking space and worked from there for the day. He’d been joking around about doing just that on Twitter with a couple other people in San Francisco’s urbanist scene (Pontis volunteers for YIMBY Action, a group in the city that advocates for more housing development and better use of urban space). So when he tweeted about actually setting up shop in a parking space, he ended up fielding enough interest, he says, to quickly set up a website for WePark, and plan the event at Civic Center for April 29. A few other people in other cities–one in Toulouse, France, and several in Santa Monica–got wind of the plans in San Francisco through Twitter, and set up WePark stations of their own.
WePark is not without precedent. Every September, activists and designers in cities across the world participate in PARK(ing) Day, which encourages residents to transform parking spaces into parklets. Outdoor coworking is also not a new concept: OUTBOX in Silver Spring, Maryland, gets set up every summer as a shaded, Wi-Fi-enabled coworking space in a plot of public land roughly the size of a parking spot. Each OUTBOX can host around 20 workers, but the idea is that because they’re modular, they can proliferate fairly quickly and easily.