Wednesday, May 03, 2017

These Cities Are Replacing the Worst Kind of Infrastructure with the Best

R.I.P. parking lots.

Pacific Plaza (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
In car-dependent Dallas, parking lots are ubiquitous downtown. But one lot will soon be de-paved and turned into a park.  Nearby, another parking lot is turning into a temporary urban farm before it also becomes a park.  Something similar is happening across the U.S. as cities begin to realize that a slab of asphalt for storing cars isn’t the best use of valuable urban space.

“I can’t imagine a worse use of land in a downtown area than a surface parking lot,” says Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of city park development for the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, which helped Dallas initially acquire a 3.2-acre lot that will become the new Pacific Plaza Park.  “It only serves one function, which is the parking of cars…but they also represent extraordinary opportunities for creating open space parks and other kinds of public spaces that are desperately needed in many downtowns.”

In Santa Monica, a flat, sprawling 7.4-acre parking lot became a green park with meadows and rolling hills.  In Chicago, an unused parking lot next to a former movie theater will become a park.  In the nearby suburb of Aurora, overflow parking for a shopping mall may also become a park.  In Washington D.C., parking lots next to the unused RFK Stadium may become sports fields and a food market.

In Dallas the plans for the Pacific Plaza Park began over a decade ago as part of a city master plan for downtown parks.  After Trust for Public Land helped the city acquire the land about 10 years ago, a nonprofit called Parks for Downtown Dallas offered to donate $15 million to build the park and another $1 million for an endowment to fund the operation.

As more people begin to move to downtown Dallas–a neighborhood that used to be dead after offices closed–the park gives them access to green space.  “I work downtown, I used to live downtown, and we’ve seen the transformation,” says Robert Kent, the North Texas area director at the Trust for Public Land.  “We’ve seen families move back downtown and residents move here, and it’s really important for the city to think about how they’re taking care of the parks and open space needs of those residents… Turning a parking lot into a park in one of the most densely populated parts of downtown is a great way to do that.”

The shift from asphalt to a park has other benefits.  As climate change makes heat waves more common and average summer temperatures rise, parks can help offset the urban “heat island” effect that makes neighborhoods around paved surfaces even hotter.  In a study of Dallas, Trust for Public Land found that the soon-to-be converted parking lot was one of the worst urban heat islands in the city.  As heavy storms also become more common because of climate change, the park can absorb rainwater rather than overload sewers.

Read more at These Cities Are Replacing the Worst Kind of Infrastructure with the Best

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