Profile: Investing in Parking Art

Some may wonder about the mysterious person who’s in charge of every parking space in Eugene, in charge of the parking enforcement who write up tickets, and in charge of ensuring the efficiency of parking spaces. The person who walks from downtown Eugene to campus while looking over his parking garages and admiring the featured art. He smiles as he speaks and has a charismatic demeanor. This mysterious person is Jeff Petry and as parking manager, he’s dedicated to make parking in Eugene the best and most creative it can be.

Petry manages a $6.5 million program. One of his duties as parking manager is community relations, like meeting with upset citizens who received a parking ticket. Another aspect of his job is the planning division, such as discussing how to redesign South Willamette Street. Petry says his work also includes maintaining the 6 formal parking structures in Eugene.

1 of 6 parking garages that Petry manages.

“One of the things that I’m focusing on is something called encouraging economic activity,” says Petry,  “And enhancing neighborhood livability.”

To encourage economic activity, Petry says he trains the parking enforcement to take into consideration the context of the situation. An example being a delivery truck that’s parked in an area it should’t be, but will only be there for less than a minute. Petry encourages the parking enforcement to consider this and not write a citation, but rather check back later.

To enhance neighborhood livability, Petry settles arguments between neighbors about whose car, boat, or motorhome can park where on the street. Petry also says he receives about 2,000 complaints every year for abandoned cars. He manages those abandoned cars to maintain happy neighborhoods.

Petry has another aspect to his job that he enjoys and feels is important to the community. Investing in parking art, he calls it.

Petry says he had to discuss with a meter maintenance technician about whether or not to keep knittings, crafted by The Knotty Knitters, that were placed around Eugene on meter posts.

“Who defines art, and I said ‘I do’,” says Petry, “It’s changing the culture in the organization.”

He also incorporated writing into his art and parking concept. Petry asked a poet if writers would like to put their work up in the parking garage called Overpark. He met with about 20 writers from the community and together they came up with the name ‘Step Into Poetry.’ At every level in the stairwell of Overpark, Petry installed a panel with a poet’s work. He says it’s also there to encourage people to take the stairs.

Petry holds contests within the United States for those who want to create art to be displayed in the parking garages throughout Eugene. He even receives entries from outside the country, but unfortunately has to turn them down. The pieces of art are displayed in great size on the inside or outside and on any level of the parking garage.

One of the many pieces of art displayed on a parking garage.

“Our parking garages are the canvas, our parking meters are the canvas,” says Petry, “What does our creative community want to do on them?”

Before Petry moved to the northwest, he received a degree in economics and environmental science at Oberlin College in Ohio. He then studied at the University of Wyoming and graduated with a Master’s in Environmental Studies. Petry worked as the State of Ohio’s property tax economist for a couple years, and then worked in Philadelphia for an economic consultant firm called Economy.com.

Petry and his wife, in their young 30s, wanted a change of scenery. They both wanted an outdoor lifestyle, a major academic institution and to be able to ride a bike to work. Eugene it was. Petry says they arrived in Eugene unemployed and highly educated, but were able to figure things out.

Billie Moser, the Community Events Manager of Eugene, works with Petry. Although they’re in different departments, they work together on a team focusing on downtown Eugene. Moser says Petry is very innovative about his work.

“He is the rockstar of innovation,” says Moser. She recalls an example of Petry’s dedication when he set up a lemonade stand a few months ago at several different downtown locations. Petry handed out free lemonade and asked people if they had any questions or concerns about the upcoming parking fee increase.

“That’s an example of his creativity, his innovation and his dedication,” says Moser, “He is wonderful to work with – very engaged, very interested, very open. He is willing to invest.”

Petry has also been working on the park mobile app in all of the Eugene parking garages. More recently, signs with barcodes have been installed near parking meters. Using an iPhone or Blackberry, people can scan the barcode on the sign and then walk away. Paying to park can now be done on a cellphone. If the time left to park is going to expire soon, the app will send a text to the phone. The user can then add more time to their meter or decide to leave the parking garage. These are the first private or public parking garages in the world to integrate this ability on parking meters.

Petry tries out the Park Mobile App.

As parking manager, Petry is dedicated to all aspects of his job. He’s dedicated to the community and to make parking in Eugene as efficient as possible.

“My theory is that you have a farm field of parking out here,” says Petry, “And your inclination as a driver is to park on the street so you can get out of your car and walk to where you’re going.”

And this is what Petry knows and keeps in mind as he looks after every parking space in Eugene – even ones on the University of Oregon campus.

“It’s like being a farmer, looking at my fields,” says Petry with a smile.

-Abby Bochsler

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