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Green Parking II: Putting Parking Lots to Work

The parking lot perimeter is a landscape designed to retain stormwater runoff from the hardscape. Elements include a concrete and riprap water ramp extending into the landscape, a containment slope, capture area, emergency spillway and turfgrass/wetland plant areas. Rendering: J. Edwards-Abbey Associates Landscape Architects 

“The paved areas of the parking lot around the landscaped areas would be graded so that storm water flows into the bioswales.”
— New York City Landscape Code Sec. 37-921.(a)

In the Feb. column we defined green parking lots as those designed to do environmental work. This definition was based in part on the description of green buildings by King Country, Washington, and to some extent recent landscape code changes that are bringing sustainability into landscape codes in Florida, California, Texas, New York City and Chicago.

High-performance buildings, the so called LEED buildings, are based in part on designing buildings that take less of a toll on the earth’s resources, human health and energy consumption. High-performance parking, green parking, should be based upon similar earth-friendly precepts.

As was noted last time, our working definition of green parking then is putting parking lots to work performing environmental services. This can be done with some creative ingenuity and a little bit of ecological science on the part of landscape architects. How do we convert standard gray parking into green parking? Let’s look at just one example of landscape code leadership going in this direction.

This green parking lot concept deals with runoff with micro-retention plantings, permeable paving and French drains. 
Rendering: A. McGovern-Abbey Associates Landscape Architects

Greening Chicago
Chicago is said to be the “city that works.” Certainly from an urban greening point of view, Chicago is one of the leading cities in the country working to develop landscape sustainablilty. Their green initiatives are impressive, perhaps more so than any other city in the U.S.

Chicago is conserving water, reducing the use of energy and cutting back on greenhouse gases. They generate one-megawatt capacity of solar power. Green roofs are part of all public buildings and some private developments as well. All new public buildings must be LEED certified.

In addition, the city is busy planting hundreds of thousands of trees, building landscaped medians, parks and the most extensive biking system in the country for large cities. Parks are being renovated and schools are being turned into landscape campuses. They involve their school children in recycling activities and have opened a Household and Computer Recycling Station and Center for Green Technology.

They are converting Northerly Island, man-made acerage just off shore in Lake Michigan formerly used as a small airport, into a nature preserve, with lagoons, wetlands and prairies www.landscapeonline.com/research/article/1435. The new trees and wildflowers on the island provide food and shelter for many species of wildlife, especially migratory birds that will enhance the quality of life in Chicago.

Yet, with this impressive list of green accomplishments, does Chicago put parking lots to work? To some extent they do. Or at least you can find the roots of changing parking lot design strategies in Chicago’s Landscape Code (Title 10, Chapter 32, Title 17, Chapter 194A,Chicago Municipal Code) and their Green Urban Design Plan, created to help make the landscape of the city more sustainable. This plan is recommending changes in city policy to improve the environmental performance of development sites, strengthen urban forestry practices, consolidate site design guidelines and strengthen sustainability standards in the landscape code. Twenty-one different greening actions are set forth in the plan. All will require changes and modifications to existing codes and ordinances.

The landscape ordinance is a central part of this plan. There are policies in this plan that will make Chicago parking lots greener. The landscape code takes the first steps toward greening by requiring the planting of parking lot perimeters and interiors. In addition, parkway plantings for street trees and the planting of pedestrian walkways are included as a means of greening the city. Specific ecological services are directed toward shading to reduce the urban heat-island effect and visual control though screening, fencing and tree planting.

The Green Urban Design Plan is setting forth proposed changes to the landscape code to make parking even greener. The next revision of the landscape code will include sustainable landscaping standards for land, air and water. These will apply for all publically-owned landscapes, such as neighborhood parks, forest preserves, campus parks, plazas or landscaped grounds around public buildings. The landscape code will be supplemented with “performance-based landscape improvements” like soil enhancement, waste reduction and composting.

These ideas of ecological urbanism can best be seen in the Green Alley Program that is introducing such green technology as the use of permeable paving and onsite stormwater management into common site design standards. There is a future for a system of landscapes designed, managed and monitored as part of the city’s stormwater management infrastructure.

You can also see these coming standards in several recently prepared documents: landscape standards for the Calumet Industrial Corridor, the Midway Airport Landscaping Resource Guide and the Chicago River Corridor Design Guidelines and Standards. Onsite stormwater design is covered in Calumet, while the Midways provided good planting standards. The Chicago River document provides good standards for buffers, urban greenways and landscaping of riverfront parking.

New York City has taken similar steps to increase landscape sustainability as it enacted its first Parking Lot Landscape Ordinance in 2007 as part of its green initiative PLANYC (NYC Zoning Resolution, Art, II, Chap 5, Sec. 25-67 and Art II, Chap 7, Sec 37-92, Parking Lot Landscaping & Special Regulations respectively). The New York code requires screening, stormwater management and allows the use of porous paving.

Sustainable Landscaping Principles
The idea of putting parking lots to work is a concept based upon several sustainable landscaping principles found in the LEED program and the ASLA Sustainable Sites Initiative, but also in some of the regional sustainable landscaping programs, such as the Florida Friendly Landscape Program, Louisiana Yards and Neighborhood Program, or the California Bay Friendly Program. They all use site design strategies for onsite stormwater management practices, shade generation, air cleaning, filtering and cooling, as well as vehicle screening within the parking environment.

Green parking is also about permeable paving, allowing stormwater to enter the ground rather than run off the site, micro-detention that cleans stormwater of pollutants, low-impact development strategies that protect trees, native habitat and wildlife populations. Green parking is concerned with pollution interception or uptake, car sorting, pedestrian management, native habitat protection, irrigation management, water conservation repurposing of building materials when appropriate, and tree and landscape plantings within parking areas.

Finally, green parking lots should help do the work of nature and in some instances mimic nature’s natural systems. This essentially turns common, gray parking lots into environmental machines working to provide environmental services for cities.

Doing Environmental Work
Parking lots should be designed to reduce the use of energy, improve environmental quality and to ensure more healthy conditions for people. Further, parking lots should be planned and designed to reflect regional landscape types. Plant materials and other materials of construction must be used in ways that will support this objective.

Several sustainable landscaping principles are quickly suggested. We will take a look at them in our next column on Green Parking.

Source: Landscape Online - Green Parking II: Putting Parking Lots to Work