Speaker: Parking lots can be redeemed

Eran Ben-Joseph of MIT, author of "ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking"

Some people go to great lengths searching for parking, but perhaps none more so than Eran Ben-Joseph. Ben-Joseph, head of the Joint Program in City Design and Development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had a different mission than most: find a well-designed lot to highlight in his site-planning course.

 “Students always ask, ‘Can you show us some good parking lots?’” Ben-Joseph said. “And it was mind-boggling how you just couldn’t find enough.”

Ben-Joseph’s search led to his latest book, “ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking.” Ben-Joseph details his exploration of parking Sept. 10 as the keynote speaker of the Oregon Transportation Summit.

Some parking lots are well vegetated or handle runoff well, Ben-Joseph said. But few stand up as well-planned, well-designed case studies. In part, he said, you get what you ask for. And communities haven’t held lots to comparable standards as buildings or roads.

“From a regulation standpoint, I found that in most cases, the code is very minimal,” Ben-Joseph said. “It might say, ‘You need one tree for every five cars, enter here, exit here,’ but not how to lay it out.”

Parking lots make an easy target, Ben-Joseph said. But he didn’t set out to attack them any more than to defend them.

“Parking is as much of a hot potato as politics is now. You can see it from the two extremes: either burn all cars and bomb all parking lots to ‘I can never find enough parking and I need at least five more spaces.’”

Ben-Joseph instead explores how lots came to take their current form and how they might improve on a number of measures. Even the worst lot might have its benefits, he said, such as hosting farmers markets or gatherings.

“They are wonderful places for kids in East Los Angeles to go downtown to play soccer during the weekend, because they are empty. They are actually providing somewhere for the kids to play in an area with very little open space.”

While Ben-Joseph said he wouldn’t mind seeing lots eventually disappear completely, they’re a fact of life for now. And if they’re going to be here awhile, they might as well be better, he tells property owners and developers.

Parking lots are the first and the last place people see when visiting a site. “You should pay more attention and it could increase the value of your property if you do it in the right way,” he said.

“It seems simple to us, but it’s not something they’re used to.”

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