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Green Parking Principles Putting Parking Lots to Work

By Buck Abbey, ASLA, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University

The design for this green parking lot incorporates a median that functions as a bioswale. As you can see, the parking lot is well screened with trees and shrubbery.
Rain bird
Belgard Came America

Sustainability metrics "address the various aspects of land development and management that affect the ability of a site to provide a variety of ecosystem services."
-- ASLA Sustainable Site Initiative, 2008

The February column, "Sustainable Parking," defined green as "parking lots that do environmental work. The March follow-up column, "Putting Parking Lots to Work," addressed landscape codes that promote sustainable landscape best management practices (LBMP's) in Chicago and New York City.

It is clear the nature of parking lots in urban areas is changing. If nature is to be preserved, protected or rebuilt in urban areas, the largest amount of available space to be found is within paved over land used for parking. In this column, "Green Parking Principles," we will examine the root principles of landscape sustainability and how they apply to the greening of parking lots.

One recent study of parking and green laws found parking lots occupy about 10 percent of the land in U.S. cities, and can be as much as 20 to 30 percent of the land in downtown central business districts. A 2004 study by Dr. Kathleen Wolf, University of Washington, estimated 80 to 90 percent of all U.S. parking demand is provided by surface parking lots. Due to zoning requirements that often overstate the amount of parking required per land use, two or three times as much space is dedicated to parking as compared to floor space in the building being served by the parking. Lots for regional malls can be as large as 60 acres and mostly paved.

In all situations, the ecology of a parking lot is nonexistent. Paved parking increases the urban heat island effect, pushes polluted runoff quickly into fresh water streams or overloaded sewer systems and provide no habitat for wildlife and questionable habitat for people. Most parking lots as viewed from the public street are glaring and unattractive and their curb cuts are always potential traffic conflict points.

In fact, the environment of parking lots will vary from confusing to ugly to unsafe. The only function provided by parking lots is the temporary storage of cars, often for just a few hours a day while people shop or work. And in many lots, vast swaths of paved parking go largely unused, except during the holiday shopping spree.

We call these urban land use areas "grey parking." They provide no environmental services for mankind and represent areas of the earth that have been totally destroyed from a natural point of view. Perhaps it is time for some creative thinking about parking lots and how to create high-performance parking lots, green parking lots.

Green Parking
Designing parking lots to be green means they must be designed using sustainable landscaping principles that will bring ecology and life back to these important parts of our cities and towns. But what are the principles that bring nature back to parking lots and where do these principles come from?

Green parking lot design principles must be set forth in local zoning ordinances and landscape codes as we see in Chicago, New York City, Miami, Seattle, Santa Monica and Irvine.

We can also find the roots of green parking in the USGBC LEED program and the ASLA Sustainable Sites Initiative. Both of these programs use rating sheets to tally sustainable metrics. Additional information can be found in the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Landscape Performance Series and through the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment. There are various local sustainable landscaping programs in California, Florida, Louisiana and around the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council (CCLC) and the EPA add ecological substance to any discussion of green parking lot design.

Common greening principles from these sources will be summarized next time.

LASN associate editor for ordinances, D.G. "Buck" Abbey, ASLA, CELA, is associate professor of Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University.

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November 19, 2019, 10:26 pm PDT

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