A new book, “Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World” by Henry Grabar, a Slate staff writer, brings to light the profound parking lots impact on heat and flooding in urban environments across 100 U.S. cities. The book reveals how these concrete expanses, often overlooked, contribute significantly to flooding risks, heat islands, and even social issues like housing shortages and environmental degradation.
Grabar’s analysis challenges a key misperception in urban planning, highlighting the parking lots’ impact on heat and flooding. He notes that the real issue is not a lack of parking spaces but their surplus. In Canada, for example, the ratio of 3.2 to 4.4 parking spaces per vehicle emphasizes this excess, a byproduct of the car-centric approach prevalent in countries like Canada and the United States, where a proliferation of parking areas has become the norm.
The book argues that reducing parking spaces could pave the way for more affordable housing. Large parking lots, such as the one at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, occupy vast tracts of land that could be repurposed for housing, especially in cities grappling with housing crises. The transformation of these spaces into residential areas could significantly increase urban density and improve access to amenities.
However, transitioning from parking lots to housing or green spaces is challenging. In urban areas, the high cost of constructing underground parking increases the financial burden on residents, making housing less affordable. Moreover, efforts to reduce parking spaces in favour of housing often meet resistance from local communities, as seen in Ottawa’s Orléans suburb.
The book also explores the environmental impact of parking lots. These impervious surfaces contribute to the loss of wetlands and green spaces, exacerbating the urban heat island effect and complicating water management during floods and droughts. In cities like Houston, replacing permeable land with parking lots proved disastrous during Hurricane Harvey, highlighting the need for more thoughtful urban planning.
Beyond environmental concerns, the book suggests that reimagining parking spaces could address various urban issues, from reducing pedestrian fatalities to managing waste more effectively, as in New York City’s struggle with its rat problem. The reduction of parking spaces aligns with the broader goal of encouraging alternative transportation modes, like walking, cycling, and public transit, thus contributing to the fight against climate change.
“Paved Paradise” offers a compelling argument for rethinking urban landscapes, highlighting the potential of parking lots as key elements in creating more sustainable, livable, and equitable cities. As urban areas evolve, the book’s insights underscore the importance of innovative and forward-thinking approaches to city planning.