There’s something attractive about a vast, clean parking lot lined with an abundance of spaces.
But parking lots are more than places to park vehicles. They are spaces Americans encounter daily, and they have the chance to either please us aesthetically with good design, or they can simply lie as pavement beneath our tires and feet.
And once a shopping plaza with a sprawling lot goes out of business, what should become of that parking lot? Is that also an opportunity for design?
The New York Times article “Paved, but Still Alive” touches on the lack of sustainability in the design of many parking lots, but it also draws attention to abandoned parking lots and how people are thinking of them as multipurpose spaces rather than deserts of pavement strictly for vehicles.
There are two aspects to parking lots and sustainability. One is thinking green when designing new parking lots, and the other is figuring out what to do with them when they’re out of use.
The positives of good aesthetics aside, lots are harmful to the environment if not well-designed.
According to altenergymag.com, “The metal mass of numerous vehicles sitting on the black top surfaces collects and radiates heat, creating a less than pleasant experience for the driver and passengers. In fact, the heat collected by vehicles and the black top surface itself create heat island effect, a serious consequence of modern infrastructure that can damage micro-climates.”
The article also brings attention to wastewater from parking lots, “Cars sitting on cement bring grease to the lot, which is captured by storm water runoff that contaminates municipal collection systems…”
The author of a global awareness blog also touches on these points in the post, “Parking lots outnumber drivers 3 to 1.” Pollution and effects of heat are brought up again, and issues with flooding and over-creation of spaces are introduced.
Some solutions to these sustainability problems are to create shade, capture storm run-off, and harness the heat that does exist so clean energy to power buildings and charge electric vehicles can be produced, according to altenergymag.com.
But what about solutions to abandoned blacktops?
It seems that abandoned lots naturally turn into places for people to start farmers markets, flea markets and just gather in general. Citizens are designing new uses for lots by thinking of alternative uses for vast space, and designers are picking up on that notion of transformation rather than recreation.
One group in Baltimore, Maryland turned its abandoned lot into a community garden.
Another futuristic idea from Osborn Architects proposes to “overhaul” asphalt surfaces with “productive skins that generate energy with solar and piezo-electric membranes. These vertical urban forests would sequester carbon and filter pollution, as well as store water.”
The New York Times article featured architecture and planning firm Interboro, which had the vision of transforming a parking lot in New York that had been abandoned in the traditional sense.
“The parking lot was quietly being used as a depot and stop by bus lines,” said the article. “A hot dog truck had set up shop there. Patrons at a drive-through McDonald’s ate in their parked cars. Truckers slept there overnight. The Fishkill flea market took over on weekends, and a graphic design firm and a couple of banks and a post-office processing center converted vacant mall stores into offices.”
The transformation would include installing a fitness and day care center; creating a nightclub, beer garden and recycling facility; beginning a used-car business; and setting up a hiking trail entrance.
The design wasn’t given life because the developer didn’t take up that plan, but it still sheds light on what communities can do to redesign and liven up what looks like wasted space.
There are even organizations like Depave, which is based in Portland, Oregon, that are devoted to removing unused pavement and can help communities redesign the space.
The new ideas circulating parking lots involve design and thought, and they involve transforming old spaces into new spaces with more functionality than a simple car lot.
In a way, maybe the Gator Nation should be proud of its lack of parking spaces. Perhaps this campus is ahead of its time.