candy machines dispensing seed bombs to guerrilla gardeners and cigarette machines dispensing art, now I've discovered that repurposed mechanical parking meters are being used to collect funds for Montreal's 30,000 homeless. What a novel idea! Novel, yes, but new, no. The ParcoDon (don is French for donation) began in 2007.
Three years ago, the City of Montreal donated 70 of its old parking meters to Itinéraire, a community organization that assists the homeless with social and occupational reinsertion programs. The bright green mechanical meters installed at locations with high pedestrian traffic were used to collect $23,000 in the first three years.
"But just a second," I said. "Does the person giving the donation get free parking too?"
"No, that was the problem," said Karoline Bergeron of Itinéraire. "We used to receive calls from motorists who thought that they had paid for parking, unaware that they had just made a donation to help the homeless."
The obsolete green meters had been phased out in favour of the black electronic version several years ago, but they were still evidently part of the collective memory of Montreal drivers. In order to ensure that there was no future confusion, 70 organizations and celebrities were invited to showcase their creativity by customizing a ParcoDon. A star was put at the foot of each hand-painted meter for better visibility, creating a walk of fame on the major arteries of the downtown. Some of the celebrities and organizations that took part include sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, author Dany Laferrière, the Montreal fine arts museum (MBAM), the group Mes Aïeux, the Montreal Opera (OM) and Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay.
Reader would you be more inclined to make a donation via a ParcoDon or give the money to a homeless person directly?
The City of Montreal, the Montreal Parking Authority and Itinéraire held a press conference for all the local media to make sure that the message was clear: this initiative was to raise funds for the homeless, not to provide parking.
I drove around downtown yesterday with my husband to take a look at some of the customized ParcoDons, and some were indeed spectacular.
According to Bergeron, the celebrity walk of fame received extensive media coverage, and the phone calls inquiring about parking have since ceased. She said that the situation has heightened awareness vis-à-vis the homeless and Itinéraire. It has also been great PR for local celebrities and participating organizations.
But has this initiative increased donations?
"Yes, it has," said Bergeron. "Our goal was to match the previous $23,000, and so far, we have collected almost $5,000 or 20% since the launch in May, just three months ago."
To see all the various upcycled meters and their customized new look, view the video below:
Upcycling: Big Cig Turns Over New Leaf
Upcycling Meets Guerrilla Gardening