The Problem of Parking, Part 3

In the previous segment I discussed the option of a pay-for-parking environment to alleviate the effects that abundant off-street parking has created in our cities. Because paid parking is unpopular with most citizens, however, implementing shared parking facilities and unbundling them from real estate is a good compromise that reduces the parking spaces needed to accommodate drivers.

Encouraging shared parking not only provides a more efficient way of getting people to their destinations, it also provides environmental benefits. Reducing the amount of paved area, especially parking lots, allows rainwater to penetrate the soil naturally rather than run off into storm systems which often contribute to flooding. In addition, Chris McGowan of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce notes that storm water runoff from impervious surfaces “collects pollutants such as heavy metals, oils, grease, pesticides, fertilizers and other toxic substances along the way and carries them into rivers and lakes via the drainage system.” This deteriorates our drinking water supply and is harmful to many types of wildlife.

Parking structures, rather than parking lots, provide another opportunity to express this newfound eco-consciousness: green roofs. In cities around the world, parking garages are now being built with its upper deck devoted to plantings which provide clean air, reduce flooding, help mitigate the heat island effect, and in some cases, serve as recreation space for residents and visitors. In both Nashville and Houston, for example, below-grade parking decks have been topped with full-scale parks. Discovery Green in Houston is a 12-acre park complete with a playground, pond, water features, a performance stage, even restaurants, all above a 650-space parking garage. Nashville Public Square is smaller, at 2.25 acres, but tops a 5-level parking garage and 57,000 gallon rainwater storage tank.

Photo: Discovery Green, located in Downtown Houston, is actually a green roof with 650 parking spaces below.

The message to take away here is that parking cannot continue to ravage our land for the sake of providing convenience. It is costly to our wallets, to our ecological system, and to our quality of life. It should be treated, rather, as a valuable amenity that cities can provide as a component of a healthy, comprehensive urban fabric. Parking should be efficient, light on the land, and paid for by those who use it.


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