What’s in a Lot?

Here’s a challenge from Eran Ben-Joseph: name a great parking lot.

Couldn’t do it, could you? Neither could I, and neither could Ben-Joseph. In a new book ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking he explores the horribleness of all that space that car drivers demand. If you look at North American cities in the 60s and 70s all you’ll see is a giant slab of pavement for automobiles instead of people. Today, those cities are dealing with the car-created destruction.

Where’s the good news in this? Well, Ben-Joseph’s book is all about finding ways to make these wastes of space practical and helpful to the areas around them. Some solutions might be to design a parking lot to serve the local community or to make these parking spots actually green.

So what can be done to make parking lots greener and better integrated into their civic surroundings? Ben-Joseph recommends a menu of ideas to improve parking lots according to their settings — which he regards as “a healthier approach to planning, rather than giving prescriptive ideas about how to design them.”

For one thing, planners might simply plant trees throughout parking lots, as the architect Renzo Piano did at Fiat’s Lingotto factory in Turin, Italy. Low-use parking lots need not be entirely paved in asphalt, either: Miami’s Sun Life Stadium features large areas of grass lots that are environmentally better year-round.
“The whole space does not have to be designed the same way,” Ben-Joseph says. “Overflow parking can be designed differently, and not paved with asphalt.”

Lots can also incorporate green technology. Some parking spaces in Palo Alto, Calif., have charging stalls for electric vehicles. A Walmart parking lot in Worcester, Mass., has 12 wind turbines that generate clean electricity for the store. The Sierra Nevada Brewery parking lot in Chico, Calif., has solar panels built into its lattice structure.

Read more at Physorg.

Build a City by Limiting Parking

Parking spaces for automobiles take away precious land from other uses and too many parking spaces can effectively kill a community. In Boston where they do anything to ensure cars reign supreme urban planners are turning their backs on providing parking spaces in order to revitalize the city.

The pro-car attitude is very 20th century and it’s good to see that more and more cities in North America are finding ways to ensure people can use the city as more than a place to drive and work.

City planners are in the middle of an extensive re-thinking of Boston’s zoning codes. As they work, neighborhood by neighborhood, to update the code, they’re flipping the conventional thinking about parking on its head: Instead of mandating that minimum levels of parking accompany new developments, they’re pushing to establish maximum parking caps.

Minimum parking requirements are relics of a time when urban vitality depended on developers’ ability to draw suburbanites into the city to work, shop, or live. As the suburbs boomed, cities imported suburban-style infrastructure and grafted it onto a decaying urban fabric. The result wasn’t just a landscape scarred by highways and pockmarked by monolithic concrete parking garages; this postwar shift also left reams of zoning code built on the assumption that the world revolved around the automobile.

Patterns of living, and travel, have evolved. Residents now work and shop in closer proximity to their homes. The city is no longer at the automobile’s mercy. But zoning hasn’t caught up to this new reality. Until now.

Environmental officials imposed flat parking caps downtown during the 1970s, but this new approach is surgical. The old parking cap made wide allowances for automobiles at residential developments. City planners are now arguing that residential developments should be given less leeway, not more, since many urban residents don’t need a car to get to work. That’s true in the Back Bay and downtown, and especially along the waterfront, where the BRA is trying to create a critical mass of technology and innovation firms by pushing small business incubators and cheap live-work space.

Developers aren’t huge fans of large parking requirements for urban apartment buildings, since parking garages are expensive to construct. Often, the cost of building parking spaces can make or break a project. Developers are also finding that renters aren’t demanding as many parking spots as they used to. Archstone’s Chinatown tower, for example, was built with a glut of excess parking; the last two residential towers to enter permitting in that neighborhood have been designed with dramatically lower quantities of parking. And the envelope can be pushed even further.

Read the rest at the Boston Globe.

PARK(ing) Day 2009 is Tomorrow (Sept. 18)

PARK(ing) Day is all about making the city a little greener by taking a parking spot for a vehicle and converting into a parking spot for people. You can make it happen in your own city!

The PARK(ing) Day website has more information.

PARK(ing) Day began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art collective, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in an area of San Francisco that is underserved by public open space.

Back then the project was named simply PARK(ing), and was devised as a creative exploration of how urban public space is allocated and used. For example, up to 70% of San Francisco’s downtown outdoor space is dedicated to the vehicle, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to the public realm. Paying the meter of a parking space enables one to lease precious urban real estate on a short-term basis. What is the range of possible activities for this short-term lease?

Since 2005, the project has grown into PARK(ing) Day, an annual worldwide phenomenon, created independently by groups of artists, activists and citizens. Along the way, Rebar has been supported by several non-profits that share our values and concerns about how urban space is used. PARK(ing) Days in the past would not have been possible without support from The Trust for Public Land, Black Rock Arts Foundation and Public Architecture.

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