Can Parking Help Save Paradise?

In 1970 Joni Mitchell released the haunting "Big Yellow Taxi" including the famous lyric: "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot." Since then the song has continued to resonate with people and has been covered by a range of artists including Bob Dylan, Amy Grant and Counting Crows.

Rich symbolism aside, today's parking facilities are no longer the antithesis of environmental responsibility. In fact, the International Parking Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the Green Parking Council are working to not only turn them into spaces that contribute to the environment, but also the aesthetic of the world around us, according to Rachel Yoka, Vice President of Program Development for IPI.

Rooftop solar arrays such as those at Santa Monica civic center or those supplying power to the electric grid in New Jersey as part of the Casino Reinvestment Redevelopment Authority are just one highly visible way that parking is moving into the 21st century and becoming assets to their communities.

Playing and athletic fields on the roof at UC Berkley offer a space-saving way to provide both parking and recreation. Airports, shopping malls and other public spaces are using parking guidance systems that indicate how many spaces are available, the floor that they are on, and even guide you to the space itself. This reduces the environmental impact of idling, circling and increases convenience.

Just as GPS with real time traffic saves time and reduces congestion (and pollution associated with cars running but not moving), Parkmobile and other apps can identify, reserve, pay and extend the time for parking. This offers unique opportunities to cut back carbon emissions and time wasted searching for a space. Similarly, pay-before-you-exit systems prevent long lines waiting to get on your way.

And it's not just the environment that benefits. Businesses do too. And so do people. For example, have you ever decided not to go somewhere because of concerns about finding parking? Contrast that with the last time I was in Paris. A colleague and I drove to a popular area for dinner in one of the city's many Autolib' (shared) electric cars. He reserved a space with a charger where we were going, which was identifiable by a colored light on the charger, indicating that someone was coming for the space. Parking was a breeze and, if anyone had tried to use the space, they would have found that the charger would not provide them with electricity -- it was reserved. Similar systems are in the works.

Today smart meters and apps mean that you can use your cell phone to pay for parking, including from the convenience of your restaurant - you don't have to run back to the meter to renew your time. (Please note that some jurisdictions frown on people doing this.)

Why is this necessary?
Even as people talk about making 'walkable' cities and public transport options reducing the number of cars on the road things like driverless cars are opening up the possibility of more personal vehicles used by classes of people who currently do not drive -- from the very young to an alternative to losing personal mobility and freedom as people age. And the physically disabled may suddenly join the ranks of those using and relying on personal transportation.

Rethinking parking
So, it is not only time to adjust our attitude about parking and parking garages, we also need to change how we plan our space. The old attitude of "We'll figure out the parking later" is neither effective, nor good for the environment. No one benefits from congestion and no one likes to see an empty parking garage. It's a waste of space and represents lost revenue. 'Smart Parking' and right sizing prevents the OVER BUILDING of parking. And this can have a huge impact on urban planning. Making sure these spaces serve other functions - power generation, water collection, runoff prevention - are just a few ways. Others include;
  • Lighting control, energy efficiency, storm water management & rainwater harvesting
  • Design for durability, longer lifecycles
  • Roofing systems - solar, renewable, 'cool' roofs (reduce heat island), 'green' roofs, and blue roof for storm water retention.

Click here for more information on how parking facilities are evolving to meet the needs of people, communities and the planet.