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Parking lots to parks and permeable paving

My first experience with a known parking lot to park conversion was Halcyon Commons here in Berkeley. The community-initiated park was designed over the course of four years and was led by the Halcyon Neighborhood Association. City funding, sweat equity, and contributions from local businesses transformed the 28-space parking lot into a 0.2-acre municipal park (with stewardship by the neighborhood association) with "a tire swing, a community bulletin board, a community herb and flower garden, a wisteria-covered arbor, a grass field, and many trees and flowering bushes." Check out the the new gate.

Image: Schenley Plaza across from Schenley Park circa 1920s

Across the country, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Schenley Plaza was recently restored from a parking lot to its former status as a 5-acre public park. The restoration was spearheaded by the Pittsburgh Park Conservancy, a nonprofit conservancy that manages Pittsburgh's four large parks: Schenley, Frick, Highland, and Riverview. Schenley Plaza follows the design and management precedent set by Bryant Park in New York City: moveable chairs and tables, a generous lawn area (1 acre in the case of Schenley), programmed activities, and a restaurant, among other things.

Image: Schenley Plaza lawn in 2007

Other "unpaving the city surface" (Marcus Farr, Cite, Winter 2006) designs include Discovery Green in Houston, Grant and Millennium Parks in Chicago, Boston Common and Post Office Square in Boston. The latter park, according to Farr, was constructed when a five-story garage was undergrounded and created "1.7 acres of accessible and well-used downtown greenspace." Farr observes that the integration of infrastructure (parking) and greenspace can limit heat islands and satisfy "aesthetic needs."

Image: Wellman Courtyard, UC Berkeley, Blue-Green Building

Parking area redesign is not limited to reducing urban heat islands. The use of permeable paving has great watershed benefits: stormwater is intercepted, reducing the volume of runoff into the storm-sewer system as well as filtering pollutants as rainfall percolates through the soil beneath the pavers. Local examples, like the Wellman Courtyard on the UC Berkeley campus, have been documented by Blue-Green Building:

Above, in a courtyard among Beaux Arts buildings, pavers set in a sand base let rain soak in. Some pollutants are filtered out, and some water soaks into the native clay soil beneath. A perforated-pipe underdrain takes heavy flows to the storm drain, preventing floods.


Anonymous said…
I got a link to this in my Google Alerts because I work for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Thanks for the mention! There was a lot of attention paid during the Schenley Plaza project to not just making the area look green, but to being genuinely environmentally responsible. The use of structural soils, underground irrigation, and Western PA native plants for groundcover were just a few of the things we did to really green the area.

I've really enjoyed looking through your blog. I recently visited SF for the first time and will be coming back again soon, and your writing has given me a new perspective on the city.
Anonymous said…
Yeah for Google Alerts. I was in Pittsburgh in 2007 and met Meg Cheever and Phil Gruszka. I toured the plaza with Phil and he mentioned some of the elements you highlighted in your comment, thank you.
Anonymous said…
Very cool to see some of these ideas taking shape. Ronnie at Tilthy Rich was talking too about an SF program which encourages residents to rip up their cement parking strips and plant stuff. Good old Bay Area, always at the forefront!

BTW, I totally agree with you on that weirdly pruned tree I posted about today. I've just started to worry that if I post too much negative stuff, it will come back to bite me in some way. But I just couldn't resist that one, it was so weird I had to see what people thought!
Anonymous said…
What a great idea! I especially like the permeable paving technique. This is my first visit to your blog, and I really like your mission. I'll be back. :-)
Anonymous said…
Welcome to the blog Amber and thanks for your comments.