The future of the parking lot

Parking lots aren't going to go away anytime soon. So how do we make them better?

The prominence of the parking lot in the United States is undeniable. It's estimated that parking lots cover anywhere from 800 million to 2 billion square miles of land in the United States. And if we parked all the cars in the U.S. in nonresidential parking spaces there would be plenty left over.

If we're going to pave over our country with parking lots shouldn't we give them a little more attention? That's what Eran Ben-Joseph, an urban planning professor from MIT, explored in a recent New York Times op-ed.

Ben-Joseph points to two examples of what this reimagined parking lot would look like. The first is a redesign of the Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin, Italy, in which the architect Renzo Piano eliminated islands and curbs and instead added a grid of trees. Now, the parking lot is hardly recognizable (see the image above). The other example comes from the Dia art museum (see below) in Beacon, N.Y. and pays closer attention to the look of the parking lot to make it more inviting.

Honestly, without having visited either one, these two examples don't seem to add much more than trees. But it is a step in the right direction toward a better parking lot. Ben-Joseph takes a look at what else can be done so that future parking lots are more sustainable and better integrated into communities. Ben-Joseph writes:

A better parking lot might be covered with solar canopies so that it could produce energy while lowering heat. Or perhaps it would be surfaced with a permeable material like porous asphalt and planted with trees in rows like an apple orchard, so that it could sequester carbon and clean contaminated runoff.

The ubiquity of parking lots has also led to an overlooked social dimension: In the United States, parking lots may be the most regularly used outdoor space. They are public places that people interact with and use on a daily basis, whether working, shopping, running errands, eating, even walking — parking lots are one of the few places where cars and pedestrians coexist.

Better parking lots would embrace and expand this role. ... Planned with greater intent, parking lots could actually become significant public spaces, contributing as much to their communities as great boulevards, parks or plazas.

I like that idea. Similarly, streets represent our auto-dependent culture, but we are finding ways in cities to make them accessible to multiple modes of transportation. Even though we're driving less , parking lots will continue to be a reality unless we completely stop driving. That's not likely to happen anytime soon. So lets discuss the transformation of parking lots the way we discuss the transformation of streets. Ignoring parking lots in our cities won't make them go away.

When A Parking Lot Is So Much More [The New York Times]

Top image: Truus, Bob & Jan too!/Flickr

Bottom image: urbandesigner/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com