PLACE

Perhaps 'Green Parking' Isn't An Oxymoron

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When I first heard the term "green parking," I assumed it was greenwash, pretend environmentalism. I was certain it was an oxymoron; I filed it with "urban renewal project," "Long Island Expressway," "halftime entertainment," "Rell administration," and a number of others.

But not I'm not so sure.

In truth, I'd never heard of green parking until a couple of weeks ago when a producer from "The Colin McEnroe Show" on WNPR asked if I'd be on the show with John Schmid and Paul Wessel, the board chairman and executive director, respectively, of something called the Green Parking Council.

Schmid is a big wheel in parking, the CEO of Propark America. Wessel, a former government and labor administrator, is the brother of my former Courant colleague David Wessel, who has long since gone on to become an editor of The Wall Street Journal and a rock star on National Public Radio in the pulsating, glamorous world of economic commentary. Paul, like David, is a bright and engaging guy.

The show was about parking, not a pedestrian topic. Parking as a necessary adjunct to the car culture, one that, I have written a number of times, demands a lot of paved space. You need a parking place at home, at the office, at the mall, etc., on top of the space you need on the roads and highways. Some cities, such as Hartford, built so much parking that parts of downtown look like an archaeological site.

Keep building parking, particularly surface parking, and soon enough there'll be no reason to park there. So I've argued that cities need to accommodate cars without destroying themselves to do it. In the most interesting cities in the country — Boston, New York, San Francisco — it's hard to park but easy to use transit. Transit saves space, which can then be used for stores, offices, restaurants, parks. Transit also saves energy and lessens pollution.

So how about them apples, parking guys?

"The car is here to stay," said Schmid, politely.

Damn, he had me there.

The Green Parking Council, a nonprofit supported by the country's major parking companies, is based in New Haven. It's mission is to green the parking business, to bring the industry to "environmental, technological and economic sustainability." Indeed, it seems like every fourth word on its website is "sustainable."

And it's a stretch. A 1987 United Nations report defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." For example, a forest that is replanted at the same rate it is harvested is sustainable.

As long as parking is serving vehicles that are depleting the planet's fossil fuels, it is not sustainable.

But that said, the council is doing some good stuff to reduce energy use, save space, and generally raise consciousness about the environment. One of the council's major projects is the development of Green Garage Certification standards, which has been in the works for three years and is now out for field testing and public comment.

Some of the standards the industry will be urged to adopt are the same that builders of any new structure should adopt — use of recycled materials, alternative energy use, gray water reuse, water-efficient landscaping, cool or green roofs, energy-efficient lighting, etc.

The measures specific to parking include bicycle, scooter and motorcycle parking; bike, ride and car sharing programs; special rates for small vehicles; electric car charging stations; and — this is ingenious it its simplicity — tire inflation stations. You get better mileage if your tires are properly inflated, but most people, including your correspondent, don't think to do it.

Based on the handful that have been built, green garages aren't as ugly as most parking garages. Another point; There is great potential in automated garages. They don't need as much space as conventional garages, so they can fit into tight urban spaces and can be moved to new sites as needed.

Cars will be with us, but they are a major cause of the climate change we see in front of our eyes (Hot enough for ya?). We need a better balance among modes of transport to use less fossil fuel. If the parking guys want to help, we should graciously accept.

Tom Condon can be reached at tcondon@courant.com.

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