A coffee morning in a parking space in Valletta…
Letta, Johannes and I have been exploring public space through doing things in parking spaces. We’ve had a bbq, dinner, lunch, afternoon tea and today morning coffee. I don’t exactly remember the instant the idea dawned but I suspect it was a light that lit up somewhere in Letta’s brain during one of our more random conversations.
We announce it beforehand, take a table, some chairs, food, drink and head out to find a white parking space. So far we’ve been in Valletta for the simple reason that we live there and it’s nice to be in our local surroundings.
We sit, we eat and drink, we chat and interact with passers by, we generally hang out in the street for about two hours. We offer seats, greetings and whatever food we’ve brought with us.
It’s a completely obvious, simple thing to do. Sitting out in the open air, hang out with some humans for a few hours, observe everything.
Many people find it strange. Several have commented about how radical it is. The default reaction from passers-by when being offered free tea, coffee, food is to say no thanks and keep on walking, looking somewhat suspicious. Why are these people offering me things? Why are they sitting out on the street in a white parking space? What is their agenda?
This week we unexpectedly got featured on Lovin Malta. They did a really good job of covering Parking Space Events and were kind enough to as us for comments, reactions, suggestions before going live.
Probably as a reaction to that, it took less than 2 min of being in the parking space (before we had set anything up), until a guy moving in close exclaimed, ‘ah, you’re the people who do things in parking spaces’. A good start if there ever was one. We invited him to join but he said he ‘was busy but might join for a coffee later’.
We set up our table, chairs, brought out the coffee and biscuits and posted about our location for anyone who might be on the way. We were soon joined by our friend Neville who said that he had not joined before ‘because he was scared we would get into trouble’. It’s funny how we feel that we need some kind of permission to sit outside in public space that is not specifically marked as ‘a place to sit in’.
Cyclist Joseph soon turned up on his bike, happy to have found us. Almost immediately, Joseph became a spokesperson for the act of reclaiming public space. He engaged neighbours, spoke to passers-by and generally reminded everyone that the streets belong to everyone and not simply to cars.
We had some tourists stop for coffee, some neighbours stop for a chat, some good conversations with Rose who lives right opposite the motorcycle parking space we occupied for two good hours. As we do this more often, it feels more ‘normal’ to be out on the street. There’s a sense of discomfort in there (What are people thinking?, Will they get angry if they can’t find parking space?, Will anyone stop today?), and yet there’s also a sense of exploration and fun. I’m getting to know the locals in Valletta in a way that I have not managed to in almost two years of living here. I’m learning about the different neighbourhoods here. I’m enjoying being outdoors in a city where space is coming at an increasingly large premium. I’m learning about the issues that people feel strongly about. I’m embracing the discomfort and questioning why it’s there in the first place. Most of all, I’m learning to enjoy hanging out on the street. Who would have thought?