As you drive around town, you notice that the suburbs are covered in parking lots. In every mall, city or town, you will see black top lots, mandated and designed for the drivers’ convenience — you do not have to walk more that a couple hundred feet from your car to your destination. The malls have gotten so huge, however, you end up getting back in your car, driving a couple hundred yards and re-parking to walk into the next store. This is life in America.
Can we find a better way? What can we do about these giant environmentally destructive heat sinks? How can we make this blight on our malls and towns become a welcome and beneficial place? Yes, a “place”.
In the New York Times article, “Paved but still alive,” Micheal Kimmelman discusses how the dead mall is becoming a new center for activity. He also touches on many new design ideas, which begin to open up the possibilities.
But lets start at the beginning. Do mall parking lots have to be black? We know asphalt is cheap, but what about a better material, one that reflects light and is cool in the heat, that is porous and can absorb water? Just these two things would go a long way to minimizing environmental damage. Then in the dryer areas we could use the parking structure as a water catch all, a storage solution where needed.
Open parking lots are an awful eyesore. Why not provide shading for the cars and people with solar panels above? That could create power for the tenants of the buildings or the charge stations for our future electric cars. As the price of solar panels comes down, especially in the south and south west, this solution is really becoming a no-brainer.
What about design and layout? We can get much more creative here. The parking lot doesn’t have to be a square grid, especially when you consider options for greening up the parking lot. Why not make parking structures parks with beautiful trees and grass and plants? You could add small pads of grass with play structures for kids to play on. Why not create a small community open theater in a parking lot? Most developers would argue those options are, “not efficient, not cost effective.” Really? Wouldn’t a nicer environment drive more people to the mall and make the shopping experience that much better?
Why not create small urban gardens in the median or the perimeter of these parking lots? Then you could create the ultimate local farmers market growing foods people want to buy and eat! The possibilities are endless.
And for those mega lots, why not create a transport system so people can get to their destination and not think about re-parking their cars.
There are many possibilities here. It takes thoughtful design and thinking beyond what is normal and expected. We know that creating value for people will ultimately create more value for the community and the developer. So, lets get our town design review boards to open up and reconsider what a parking lot can be.