paved paradise

10 January 2012

“…As the critic Lewis Mumford wrote half a century ago, ““The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is the right to destroy the city.””

I recently read the latest New York Times article by Michael Kimmelman titled, “Paved, but Still Alive.” It is a sobering reminder of how much we’ve covered the earth’s surface with asphalt to make daily life easier. In the article the author references various studies and competitions taken on to address this issue as well as ideas developed by architects and planners to suggest alternative uses for these black top oceans beyond their obvious day job. I recommend reading the article in its entirety, but let me share with you a few quotes from the article that I found profound and interesting. If we can break free from our single-mindedness about how life ought to function based on our pampered way of life in 2012, we can see that finding diverse lives for these automobile napping carpets could not only give them more life, but possibly build community as a result. Maybe some of these ideas are not practical or even feasible, but it is imperative that we think about how we live and what impact it will have on future generations. Ironically, I often hear that we need to make more parking…as if 500 million to 2 billion spaces is not enough.

“The Pensacola Parking Syndrome is a term of the trade used to describe a city that tears down its old buildings to create parking spaces to entice more people downtown, until people no longer want to go there because it has become an empty lot.”

“…the journal Transportation Science has shown that drivers who parked at the first available spot and then walked to their destination on average saved considerable time (never mind savings in gasoline and anxiety) over those who cruised around until a “better” spot opened.”

Some of the additional uses cited in the article…wouldn’t this be fun?

“… farmers’ markets, street-hockey games, teenage partiers and church services… creating lots that function, in effect, as public squares…a hot dog truck had set up shop there. Patrons at a drive-through McDonald’s ate in their parked cars. Truckers slept there overnight.”

“…installing fitness and day care centers, which the postal workers said they wanted, and turning part of the mall over to a nightclub, so that the parties already happening in the lot could move indoors. The lot would get a beer garden, a recycling facility, a used-car business, a hiking trail entrance where the lot abutted protected wilderness and a summer stage that exploited, as a readymade band shell”

Look, these ideas may seem nutty to some of you and the nay-sayers may find fault in the idea or the expense. But I’d bet they’d be the first to line up if something fun was going on there. I remember the days when the owners of classic cars would line the parking lots as the mall was closing. It was a great way to give us high school kids something else to do before we descended on McDonalds. Yet to imagine some of these ideas presented in this article is really amazing. It’s a real ‘lemons into lemonade’ type of thinking.

What do you think? Has your community responded to these possibilities? What have they done? In favor or not “either way it’s a lot of pavement.”

top photo is from drouu’s photostream on stock.xchng (used under the standard image license)

bottom photo is from peejay’s photostream on stock.xchng (used under the standard image license)

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5 Responses to “paved paradise”

  1. Jeremiah Says:

    Man, don’t even get me started on “paved paradise”. I live in Jacksonville. This city has torn down more buildings in favor of progress (read “surface parking”) than any other city I’ve ever lived in, and then they have the nerve to turn around and bitch and complain about how they can’t get developers to move to downtown…..please, please, please don’t get me started. A surface parking lot is a blight, no matter how you slice it. The automobile, as rightly quoted, has destroyed the city in favor of suburbia. The personal automobile is not a symbol of American freedom, it is the single most divisive element of our culture. Road Rage is a prime example of this. How many people do you see with Metro Rage or Bus Rage? None. Why? Because they are calm, cool, reading a book, doing the crossword, whatever. Mass transit and infrastructure are unifying city planning elements. Roads, highways and parking are divisive elements. It’s time to choose more wisely.

  2. Fred Watts Says:

    Where did you get this parking lot photo? Are you a time traveler? You realize this is a view of the once standing Pittsburgh Civic Arena site 5 years from now. Very prophetic stuff.


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