Beyond the Build


Streetwise Parking

Starting few years ago, it seems commercial developers and cities began approaching parking differently.

It wasn’t that long ago when 4-5 parking spaces per 1,000 sf of development was the standard. Now, it is more like 3-4 spaces. It’s estimated that in the U.S., we have 500 million surface parking spaces, roughly equivalent to the land mass of Puerto Rico. Amazing.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a review of Eran Ben-Joseph’s “ReThinking a Lot” book on parking. This MIT expert in urban planning and landscape presents a few historical facts on the topic:

  • Julius Caesar might have been the first to regulate parking, prohibiting chariots and carts from Rome’s commercial district at certain hours.
  • The first American “off-street” parking emerged in the 1920s, with the rise of auto manufacturing.
  • During the suburban flight of mid-century in America, it was considered enlightened public policy to use surface lots as downtown placeholders until redevelopment could take hold.

I think we are all a bit more mindful now. Here’s what I’m seeing on several of our projects:

Reasonable Design. Most of the design, if it is not code driven, is working smarter. We are seeing development plans for 80% of maximum expected traffic level, rather than accommodating those few days (like Black Friday/retail) when every parking space is taken. The stalls themselves are also getting smaller.

Regard for Runoff. There is a little more bioswale type of thinking, including porous paving and strategic placement. This results in better quality storm water discharge/lower turbidity.

Attention to Vegetation. Parking fields are being landscaped with more centralized tree mass. These areas are not just an afterthought: small marooned pods placed every 50′ or 100′, sometimes dictated by code. They seem more intentional and meaningful to the end users.

Move to lighter-colored surfaces. When compared to asphalt, lighter surfaces create less of a heat sink. This lowers light pollution and energy expended.

The results? Better quality of life for us and future generations.

I think we’ll see many more changes going forward. How have you seen parking evolve?

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.