Thursday, March 29, 2012

Better Parking, Better Cities

Lijiang, China
Source: Google Maps.

What's missing from the photo above? It's an aerial photo of Lijiang, Yunnan, China. There are a lot of rooftops. A lot. But where are the streets? It turns out the streets are there. What's really missing are the cars. Eliminate the cars and the streets don't need to take up much space. They can be people-sized. The photo below shows what I mean.

From 2012 03 Lijiang

OK, maybe that's too much for most of us. After the jump, steps we can take, without needing to eliminate cars, to make urban settings more adapted to humans, not just their cars.

Walking in China's cities I was struck by how many parking lot surfaces were permeable, covered in interlocking concrete pavers with open spaces between the units. Grass was growing in the spaces. The appearance is of an open green lawn. Rain runoff is reduced (reducing the need for special storm water drainage fees to be tacked on homeowners' property taxes).

An article in The New York Times explains how these ideas can be taken much farther.

Italian architect Renzo Piano, when redesigning the Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin, eliminated the parking lot's islands and curbs and planted rows of trees in a dense grid, creating an open, level space under a soft canopy of foliage that welcomes pedestrians as naturally as it does cars.
I used to think Richardson's building codes that required green space along the street (grass berms, shrubs, trees) made the city that much more pleasant a place to drive through. The idea seems to be to hide the unsightly parking lot that is inevitably on the other side of that planting. I now realize that what Richardson is doing is screening the problem, when it could be solving it.

Richardson should adopt codes for parking lots that require things like permeable, interlocking pavers with grass-filled open spaces, and trees planted in rows like orchards. Make those parking lots inviting to humans, not just cars, and we wouldn't have to hide them from view. The stores and restaurants hidden behind those berms and plantings could then be opened to the street, making the streets more walkable and the whole more integrated and attractive.

I'm all for reducing the need for parking lots wherever we can, but let's face it, the car isn't going away. So, let's reinvent parking lots, not just pretend to hide them.


Sassy Texan said...

Who owns the property in these areas of China you visited? I doubt the people do. You speak of the Agenda 21 initiative that needs to be understood in the context it is demanded.

Anonymous said...

We have a few permeable "parking scapes" in Richardson. There is actually a permeable hard surface next to some buildings at Brick Row but it's not there for parking. It is there for emergency vehicle access. You cant actually see it unless you look closely.

The LEED green building system awards points for permeable paving. It has to be done well though. When it is near commercial buildings and multi-family, the structures must be able to support trucks and emergency vehicles.

I frankly didn't see much in China and I visited three major cities. Visiting China was a lesson in urbanism that's for sure.

Mark Steger said...

I don't want to leave the impression that permeable parking surfaces are common in China. Frankly, I don't know. What struck me was that I noticed them at all, meaning they were something different from my usual experience -- that is, different from what I'm used to seeing in Richardson.

Also, the lots I noticed didn't appear to be new. My guess is that this kind of paving was used in the past (in China and in America, too) because it saves money pouring concrete. You don't have to pave the whole surface to have a hard surface for parking. Reminds me a little of driveways in the 1940s and 1950s that paved only two tracks for the car wheels. That design was "green" without knowing it. Everything old is new again.