ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    JAN. 1, 2002
III. Parking/plaza techniques Category: public open space. Subcategory: plazas and squares. There is a strong reflex for a designer simply to attach the label “parking lot” to an area and then to get on with the design of the building. In fact the necessary function of parking can be a resource for the creation of public space. Overcoming the simplistic conception of “a place for cars” is the critical first step towards techniques that emphasize the creation of a pedestrian-oriented space. The necessary elements — lighting, pavement, sidewalks, plantings — and their placement should be directed towards that end. Secondary buildings, such as attendant booths, security kiosks, and shuttle shelters, can be placed to organize clear visual and pedestrian connections between plaza and surrounding buildings. Where the parking plaza cannot be fully defined by buildings, trees and street lights can provide the visual boundaries essential to the creation of a space. To achieve an effective height-to-width ratio, overly large or oddly proportioned paved areas should be subdivided into smaller ones by sidewalks and plantings, the layout of which is keyed to the grain of buildings at the boundary. Distinctive high elements, such as a fountain or sculpture, can mark the centers and reinforce the reading of a space as a plaza, as well as helping people recollect where they've parked. Consider employing an attendant to direct drivers where to park. Such a person also can be an all-purpose source of information, security, and general reassurance. Management techniques can effectively support physical form. Above all, avoid striped pavement, as it immediately triggers the “this is only a parking lot” reflex. Most people will park in a relatively orderly and efficient pattern given even slight indications of how to do it. Reflective buttons embedded in the pavement, bollards, temporary stakes put up for the duration of an event, and other such unobtrusive devices can provide adequate cues without emphasizing the parking. Meters and pre-cast bumpers must also be avoided as they compromise the legible character of the parking lot as a plaza. And, for the long run, the parking plazas should generally be laid out as if they were urban blocks, with an eye to eventually receiving buildings as the shopping center or office park matures into an urban center.