Interesting op-ed piece about the ubiquitous parking lot in the New York Times yesterday by Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The U.S. has an estimated 800 million non-residential parking spaces, which together would cover Puerto Rico, he wrote. All that impervious surface creates more storm-water runoff, which harms waterways and creates ”heat” islands. He envisioned that lots could be more useful, perhaps covered with solar canopies that produce energy, or less impactful, covered by more permeable surface. One fact stood out because it’s something you don’t often think about: Cars are immobile 95 percent of the time so the impact of a Prius and a Hummer, it could be argued, are similar. The column made me think of a trip I took last week through Kentlands in Montgomery County, a place I’d long wanted to visit and happened to be in the vicinity.Now more than 20 years old, Kentlands was one of the first attempts to develop a new community by using older, traditional neighborhood design. There’s a Main Street commercial area with apartments over street-level storefronts. Beyond that are other apartments and single-family homes, artificial lakes, parks and nature trails. The homes and amenities are all very attractive, but what struck me most was the pavement — or the lack of it. The streets are narrower than in your typical suburban subdivision and individual driveways were very rare. Residents generally seemed to park either on the street, in rows of garages in alleyways or in attached garages positioned away from the front of the house. Whether there are neighborly battles over where to park, I couldn’t tell on the unseasonably gorgeous, 80-degree March morning I happened to be there. But the lack of emphasis on cars and driveways was the dominant “retro-innovation” of Kentlands. It also felt, alas, like an island: The large shopping centers and major roads of greater Gaithersburg were all two minutes away.
Dude, where’s my car?
March 27, 2012