Reimagining the parking lot


First aired on Spark (06/22/12)

Parking lots have never had a particularly good reputation in North America, even before Joni Mitchell sang about people who "paved paradise, put up a parking lot."

First of all, they can be pretty ugly. They take up lots of space too. And if they're paved with asphalt, which they generally are, parking lots become heat sinks in the summer, raising the local temperature (and probably local citizen's hackles as well).

But researcher and author Eran Ben-Joseph thinks it's time we stop griping about our parking lot wastelands and imagine what they could be: public spaces that help connect the community.

"It's time we pay more attention to parking lot design," he told Spark host Nora Young during a recent interview. "It's the first place that you arrive to and then the last place [you're in] before you leave.

With the right material [and] with the right design it can do more than store cars."

rethinking-lot-110.jpgNorth Americans haven't given much thought to parking lots aesthetics or how they relate to the environment. But Ben-Joseph said some European countries like Germany have experimented with developing more community-oriented, more eco-friendly parking lots since the 1970s. To him it's all about integrating pedestrians and cars by designing walkways and sidewalks throughout the lot and making it a common space, as opposed to a space dominated by cars. He believes drivers will behave less aggressively, and pedestrians will feel comfortable, and perhaps even enthusiastic, about walking through a parking lot. He points out in his book, ReThinking a Lot, that parking lots are increasingly being re-imagined for other uses, including live theatre like Shakespeare in the Parking Lot and as campground space.

"When you leave your car, you're actually walking between the cars and, of course, part of the danger you feel is that the design is very much oriented for the cars," Ben-Joseph said. "If it's landscaped, if there are places to walk, even done with interlocking pavers, this kind of combination of pedestrians walking and cars moving creates a certain different behaviour in terms of the space itself. It's really more shared in a way."