Parking Lots, Ready for a Close-Up and a Spruce-Up
As he argued in a piece that appeared Monday in The Times’s Opinion Pages, Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of landscape architecture and planning atM.I.T., claims that the world’s parking lots are deeply flawed.
His new book, “Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking” (M.I.T. Press), lands at a time when parking structures are having a moment in the design spotlight. The focal point is 1111 Lincoln Road, in Miami Beach, a starchitectual locale for parties as well as parking. With architects and planners arguing convincingly the case for attractive parking structures, Professor Ben-Joseph writes that the basic asphalt parking lot is due for a makeover as well.
He is a disciple of traditional landscape theorists, including Kevin Lynch, John Stilgoe and J. B. Jackson, whose work emphasized the role of mundane factors like zoning and sewerage in shaping cities and suburbs.
Professor Ben-Joseph explores the role of parking in city planning and zoning, as well as in art and pop culture. His prize exhibit is a clip from the old Weekly World News tabloid, with the headline, “Ancient Parking Lot Found on Mars.”
Professor Ben-Joseph writes that no single agency has a good handle on how many parking spaces there are in America or the world. He calculates there may be 800 million in the United States, which would cover an area larger than Puerto Rico, or 74 Manhattans. “Parking lots cover more than one-third of the metropolitan footprint,” he writes of some cities. He estimates that the search for parking is responsible for one-third of the total fuel consumed by motor vehicles.
But as the number of cars increases — he estimates the worldwide total at 600 million — so, too, does the number of parking spots. The additional pavement accelerates rain runoff, adding to flood dangers. It absorbs heat and raises surface temperatures. Shopping mall lots are built to accommodate the quantity of traffic their developers expect on their busiest days of the year; “Black Friday lots,” they could be called.
Professor Ben-Joseph notes there are a few examples of more humane and sensibly planned lots, their asphalt punctuated with a few trees for shade or solar lighting. One of the more genteel lots he identifies is at the Dia art museum in Beacon, N.Y., designed by the artist Robert Irwin specifically to provide a transition from greenery outside to the museum inside, which is housed in a former factory. Instead of solid pavement, the lot uses scattered blocks, so grass can infiltrate the areas in between — though mud can, too.
If electric vehicles are widely adopted, the installation of induction-based charging systems, in which an E.V. parks atop an embedded charging module, could present an opportunity to beautify lots, Professor Ben-Joseph writes.
But given the lack of good examples of parking-lot design, he devotes much of the book to what might be called parking lore, with numerous photos. Many discussions of parking issues are themselves simply parked side-by-side, without a narrative thoroughfare to link them. And the author is taken with his puns on the word “lot,” using it repeatedly in chapter titles, from the introduction (“A Lot on My Mind”) to the afterward (“Musing a Lot”).
Researchers at M.I.T. have long been interested in the subject of parking. The school’s Media Lab proposed smart parking places that would alert motorists to reduced parking rates and attract them to underused lots.
Article from New York Times