MIT’s Eran Ben-Joseph will discuss ways to reinvent the parking lot

Date: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Buena Vista Bldg. Assembly Room (BVB 1.338), UTSA Downtown Campus

By Nicole Chavez

(October 31, 2012) -- The UTSA College of Architecture presents Dr. Eran Ben-Joseph, head of the Joint Program in City Design and Development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the CoA’s Fall Lecture Series. Ben-Joseph’s lecture, “ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking,” is based on his book of the same name, and will take place at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 7 in the Buena Vista Bldg. Assembly Room (BVB 1.338) on the UTSA Downtown Campus. The lecture is co-sponsored by the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at UTSA and presented as one of the Institute’s Tech Talks. In this semester’s lecture series, the CoA has focused on the impact of both natural and man-made components on the built environment, while the Institute focused on areas of energy, water, and their nexus. The CoA series and Tech Talks are free and open to the public.

There are widely varying estimates of the total number of parking spaces in the United States, all of them massive. In ReThinking a Lot, Ben-Joseph settles on the moderate number of three nonresidential parking spaces for every car — which adds up to almost 800 million parking spaces. He says surface lots, which cover more than a third of the land area in some U.S. cities, are perhaps our most commonly used outdoor space. But as the vast majority of these lots are dirty, under-designed, and unsustainable, they serve as a bleak reminder of the costs of an automobile-oriented society. Among other environmental issues, surface lots typically contribute to the urban heat-island effect, water pollution, and flash flooding.

“Parking lots are an environmental tragedy,” indicated Dr. Afamia Elnakat, environmental sustainability Associate Professor at the Institute. “Not only do they increase impervious cover, reduce wildlife areas, and increase heat reflection, they also accumulate suspended solids that are picked up by rainfall runoff. In our aquifer recharge areas, water quality and quantity are important components of our engineering best management practices. Here at the Institute, we are part of the efforts looking at Low Impact Design (LID). We are really excited to host Dr. Ben-Joseph as part of our Tech Talks.”

In addition to their environmental shortcomings, most parking lots have vastly underutilized architectural functions. Ben-Joseph argues that, planned with greater intent, parking lots could actually become significant public spaces, contributing as much to their communities as great boulevards, parks, or plazas. As a parking lot is typically the gateway through which dwellers, customers, or employees pass before they enter a building, he believes the visitor’s arrival experience should be a central focus in the planning process.

“We need to redefine what we mean by “parking lot” to include something that not only allows a driver to park his car, but also offers a variety of other public uses, mitigates its effect on the environment, and gives greater consideration to aesthetics and architectural context,” said Ben-Joseph in his New York Times Op-Ed, “When Parking is So Much More.”

Ben-Joseph’s research and teaching areas include urban and physical design, standards and regulations, sustainable site planning technologies, and urban retrofitting. In addition to publishing numerous articles, monographs, and book chapters, he has authored or co-authored the books Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities, Regulating Place: Standards and the Shaping of Urban America, The Code of the City, and RENEW Town. His latest, ReThinking a Lot, was published in February of 2012.

Ben-Joseph has worked as a city planner, urban designer and landscape architect in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the United States on projects including new towns and residential developments, streetscapes, stream restorations, and parks and recreation planning. He has led national and international multi-disciplinary projects in Singapore, Barcelona, Santiago, Tokyo, and Washington D.C., among other places. Ben-Joseph is the recipient of the Wade Award for his work on Representation of Places — a collaboration project with MIT Media Lab and the Milka Bliznakov Prize for his historical work on Pioneering Women of Landscape Architecture. He holds degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and Chiba National University of Japan.