Tuesday, July 31, 2007


`Sustainable' parking:
A 21st-century oxymoron?
July 30, 2007
(Christopher Hume, The Star)

In another first for our great neighbours to the south, America's first "sustainable solar-powered parking structure" opened recently in Santa Monica.
The $29 million (U.S.) building, which stands six storeys tall, is as unlikely a piece of construction as you're ever going to see in that country or this. As the delightfully acerbic critic and author James Howard Kunstler points out on his website, where the garage is featured as July's Eyesore of the Month, it is "a contradiction in terms."
As he also points out, "Apparently, nobody informed these idiots that happy motoring is not a sustainable activity."
He's right, of course. Not to say that a sustainable parking garage isn't good. Obviously, it is. But there's a larger issue here, namely whether the advent of the solar-panelled structure doesn't miss the point.
Perhaps it's a case of wanting to have our cars and drive them, too. Despite the indisputable truth of global warming, we are reluctant to alter our lifestyle. That means we still love large houses in sprawled-out suburbs and two or three cars in every garage. (Read on in the comments)


Tino said...

The automobile may do us in eventually, but for now we are content to ignore all that. The Europeans have responded differently, but they were never as dependent on cars as North Americans. Furthermore, land is at a premium in Europe, which means the appeal, not to mention the practicality, of sprawl is not as great. North Americans still believe in the myth of endless wide-open spaces; perhaps that's why things like the Santa Monica garage make sense here. If we can't be pried out of vehicles, at least we can park them in environmentally decent buildings. Sadly, it will take a whole lot more than a sustainable parking garage to transform Los Angeles into a sustainable city. As one of the most dispersed, suburban cities on the continent, L.A. is a classic example of why we need to reacquaint ourselves with the idea of urbanity, which translates into dense, compact communities based on public transit and proximity.
The garage, whose owners are hoping will qualify for LEED certification, is like the Splenda you add to your coffee after eating a trans-fat-laden, cholesterol-rich, carb-heavy, 3,000-calorie dinner. All very well, but it doesn't really make a difference except perhaps to help us feel better. We must relearn the art of city-building, something our 19th- and early 20th-century predecessors understood instinctively. Not only have the legions of planners and architects, engineers and experts, failed to solve these problems, they have become the problem. The civic enterprise has been largely industrialized, which means each part is considered in isolation of the larger whole. Nothing adds up.
So expect more "sustainable" parking garages in the future, more green malls, environmentally friendly SUVs and that sort of thing. Just don't confuse any of these for solutions; they're more justifications.

Anonymous said...

Way to be, Martino.

Right on.