Somewhere in the world, there are some actual car parks that are beautiful. Absolute stunners. Picturesque. Ecological. Perfect. Here’s one:
I jest. But as it happens, I’ve found one; exactly one, in the Urban Sprawl called Brisbane. It is at 204 Radford Road, Manley West. It is a medical practice, and by some stroke of exceptional luck, or authentic good design, they retained a large patch of the original tree cover and carefully fitted their car-park into and through this miniature forest.
It ain’t perfect. I notice from Google Street View that there’s a large paved patch in front. That wasn’t there ten years ago, I’m sure of it. (Damn cars and their ever-pressing need to park somewhere for 96% of their working life!)
But it proves it is possible. Car parks needn’t be lifeless swaths of asphalt, broiling in the sun (or contributing to flash-flooding) and just generally dehumanising the character of our urban areas. Can we fix it?
But should we fix it? Well that’s debatable. It’s gonna take time, and a whole lot of spending money. Someone needs to crunch the numbers and get a cost/benefit ratio sorted out. And it’ll be a complex formula. Will a mega-mall ever see any direct benefit to their bottom line by worrying about a wetland three kilometres away, or about global climate? But what about their PR? BING-BONG! That’s the button to push!
‘SHOP AT ECOLOGYTOWN! From the moment you park in our ‘Rainforest Canopy Carpark’, you will love EcologyTown! … and when you return with your paleo supplies, we guarantee you’ll have genuine organic bird poop on your Prius!’
OR: Urban authorities will have to impose strict new guidelines and mandatory requirements on all new developments. And maybe even require the retro-fitting of trees and localised drainage/storm absorbance to existing car parks.
Or a combination of all factors. But I doubt anyone’s going to act on this very fast in the current world climate of fear, racism and refugee crises, not to mention rampant neo-con pressures to remove all regulations except for ‘market forces’ – the very thing that has got us into this golden age of planetary fuckery.
ANYWAY, HERE’S MY PRESCRIPTION FOR THE IDEAL CAR-PARK, IF WE’RE GOING TO HAVE THE DAMN THINGS AT ALL:
REDUCE. Less cars, or less need for cars? Here in Brisbane, I’ve watched them spend trillions of dollars on motorway upgrades in the last 20 years. And they do them well! Very generous with the fly-overs and the by-passes, they are. Except, it seems, in my specific satellite city of Logan. The moment the motorway hits our borders, it goes back in time by 30 years.)
It’s an old formula: More Roads Creates More Cars. (Encourages ’em to breed, somehow) Meanwhile, bugger-all is spend on localised bikeways. My local council’s idea of a bikeway is to put them into their parks and reserves, creating a nice wide sweeping ride that brings you right back to your starting point! Absolutely useless as far as getting people onto their bikes and riding (safely) to work/school/etc. Worst. Sprawl. Eva. And no hope in sight from Logan City Council.
But there are encouraging global trends as cities wake up to the clarion call to REDUCE.
RE-USE. Same cars, fewer carparks. In my area I see the same thing over and over again: There are two huge car-parks side-by-side, one servicing a business that opens during regular working hours, and the other servicing a business that mainly operates in the evening. Example: a discount warehouse right beside a suburban pub. If you set up a camera and took a compressed-time sequence, you’d see one empty as the other filled- almost as if the cars were just moving next door.
Solution: Shared amenity. Give financial incentives to pubs, restaurants, cinemas and nightclubs to ‘co-habit’ with daytime businesses. Or make it mandatory.
Another example: The idea of park-and-ride has gained here, thank goodness, and civic authorities are developing bus stations /transport hubs, almost ALL of then right beside major shopping centres. But here comes the stupid: mall managers are doing their best to ban long-term parking by commuters. Tow-away threats and all!
To these morons I have FOUR QUICK QUESTIONS: 1) When are the bus routes at peak usage? [WEEK-DAYS] 2) When are the shopping centres at their quietest? [WEEK-DAYS] 3) When does this pattern reverse? [WEEKENDS] 4) Where will those commuters no longer do their shopping because they hate your guts? [YOUR SHOPPING CENTRE!]
Solution: SHARED AMENITY. Give incentives to the mega-malls with carparks that remain three-quarters empty on week-days (I’ve been watching!), or change legislation so they can set up a modest fee system and designate commuter parking. Hey; and why not give the commuters shopping vouchers and a ‘thank-you’ note instead of ejecting them violently!
MORE TREES. I’m serious. Take away five percent of your carparks and replace them with strategically located trees. Tree make shade; they create ‘amenity’. In other words they make your business, as a destination, more appealing. On a subtle level, your repeat-customers are going to be more inclined to visit your shopping centre instead of that bleak dystopian sprawl a few miles away.
TAKE CARE OF THE NATURE! I see it everywhere, the same pattern plays out. New shopping centre; nice layout; new trees growing in their neatly groomed beds of thick tasty bark-chips; etc. FAST-FORWARDS TO 10 YEARS LATER: The bark-chips have all rotted down and vanished; the ‘soil’ is not soil at all and never was – it’s just the ‘hard-fill’ put down by the builders before they paved over another bit of paradise; the trees have maxed out at half their potential size because the ground has been exhausted of nutrients; and anyway the customers have trampling the bark chips down to nothing, the bushes are gone, ten percent of the original trees have died and haven’t been replaced …
After such a promising start it’s become yet another sad bleak miserable shitty supermarket that is busy signalling loud and clear that It Does Not Care!
At my local, the cleaners wear shirts featuring the grand title of “ENVIRONMENTAL CUSTODIAN”. I kid you not. The environment there is just as I describe. Worse, in fact. In the last 15 years I’ve seen that place cut down at least 20 of their original trees. None replaced. A dismal lack of any care whatsoever. ZERO improvements have been made. “Environmental Custodians’ they are not! [Woolworths Mall, Logan Central, FYI.]
BUILD ON TOP! The typical Western urban environment is a tragic sprawl – the result of 1950s planning that saw the car as God and installed literally ZERO infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. Some of the supermarkets have no pedestrian entrances at all. You’re walking there? Good luck! You’ve got to mix it with the cars, mate!
But there are literally hectares of blank paved land all around them, pushing the suburbs even further away. Why don’t we BUILD ON TOP! Change the laws to allow the big centres to sell strata titles over the top of their car parks. People can live there! In nice apartments. With trees and playgrounds. A minute’s walk from EVERY SINGLE THING THEY COULD POSSIBLY NEED! Big malls have all the retailers, medical centres, gyms, cafes, restaurants, movies, council library. Etc. Etc. ALL. THE. STUFF! Those residents WOULDN’T EVEN NEED CARS! For fuck’s sake! Is it not screamingly OBVIOUS!?
Get to it, my minions!