The Amateur Parker Ö

ĎGreení Parking Ė An Amateurís Point of View

February, 2010

By Melissa Bean Sterzick

In a month or two, Denver International Airport (DIA) reportedly will break ground on a 4,200-space, $18.6 million parking facility thatís supposed to be the worldís ďgreenestĒ parking structure. It will feature sustainable buildings and alternative power sources. There will be a solar farm and wind turbines, and charging stations for electric vehicles.
Two companies, Propark America and Greenscape Capital Group, are building the off-airport facility, which they are set to name Green Park DIA.
The ďgreen movementĒ has become increasingly visible during the past several years, and thatís putting it mildly. It must have reached new heights if it has hit the parking industry, because parking and conservation are historically and inherently at odds.
Cars are terribly inefficient, and the people driving them are consuming energy, not conserving it, no matter how much they recycle, carpool or compost. Parking lots and structures require serious infrastructure and, while adding no beauty to the landscape or oxygen to the air, only encourage the hordes of wasteful humans driving their gas-guzzling cars to the local mall to buy more processed, non-local products, all packaged in non-biodegradable bags, boxes and inevitably headed for the dump, where they disintegrate and release terrible noxious fumes that kill pigeons and poison the water table.
But thatís not putting it mildly at all.
So the green trend has moved into parking. Itís no longer just old hippies, young celebrities and self-serving politicians pushing environmentally friendly consumables, legislation and practices. My usual reaction to major trends is major skepticism. People love to jump on the bandwagon or join the band or whatever it is they do every time something new gets really hot.
But my theory is that the more mainstream a trend becomes, the more it has been tailored to appeal to the unthinking majority, a group I do not care to join unless Iíve thought about it first. I donít read bestsellers because if everyone in America is reading the same book, it canít be that great. I feel the same way about Twitter, hybrid vehicles, low-fat cheese, Oprah and ďAvatar,Ē among others.
But Iím not a complete snob, an ignorant grouch or an environmentally indifferent goon. I buy recyclable things and recycle them. I avoid purchasing bottled water and other single-use plastic packaging. I grow a garden and have my own compost bin. My family conserves water and electricity and donates any reusable item to charity. We are considering installing solar panels on the roof.
I drive an SUV that gets pretty bad gas mileage, but because Iíve read that disposing it will harm the environment more than keeping it for another two years, I just keep driving it around with the paint peeling off and the upholstery shredding right out from under me. My kids are destroying it further every day with their crumbs, sand, spills and muddy shoes, so I might as well run it into the ground
I do many things to show kindness and respect to the Earth and gratitude for all the resources we humans take for granted. We all have to make an effort. Just read the news, and you will be terrified to find out that our oceans are teaming with shards of plastic and our water supply is tainted with the residue of hundreds of years of pharmaceuticals entering the cycle from the child-proof bottle to the toilet Ė sometimes filtered by our kidneys, sometimes not.
Al Gore is still alive and kicking, and if you havenít heard of global warming, you are a lost cause. I canít tell you if itís the real deal or not, but itís out there. And so on and so on. With all the catastrophes waiting to happen, I might just need a bottle of water to wash down my Valium.
If they can build a parking structure and minimize its effect on the environment, I am all for it, but thereís always a rub. The gadgets and gizmos that make large structures green often complicate the function of that structure.
When water and power-collection systems are part of infrastructure, they must be maintained the same way every other element of the infrastructure is maintained. Sustainable buildings absorb resources like any other building, just at a different pace and in a different manner. And when that building or its systems become defunct, itís all just more waste headed for a landfill.
For all my posturing, I donít know all that much about the complicated cycles of energy, waste and conservation in the United States or other countries. But I do know that some things will never really be green Ė things such as disposable utensils and plates, plastic and paper grocery bags, concrete, batteries and high-tech electronics. The best we can do with those things is not to use them at all, but if we must, to use them in moderation and, invariably, to dispose of them carefully.
My idea is that the real trick is to ensure that producing something green isnít more wasteful than producing it the same old way we always have; that achieving a green label is not a goal to be reached at any cost, but a process to be carried out thoughtfully.
Corporations around the world have proven that their ethics are questionable and their marketing techniques are absolutely ruthless. I am hopeful the green movement will help protect our environment and produce environmentally friendly options for those of us who want them.
If Propark America and Greenscape Capital Group build a parking structure that is truly green, I will be even more hopeful.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is PTís amateur parker and proofreader. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.