UTSA College of Architecture hosts lecture on design and culture of parking

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Eran Ben-Joseph

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(Nov. 7, 2012) -- The UTSA College of Architecture (COA) will present Eran Ben-Joseph, head of the joint program in city design and development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for a Wednesday, Nov. 7 lecture "ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking." The lecture, part of the COA Lecture Series, is based on his book of the same name and is free and open to the public.

>> The lecture is 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 7 in the Buena Vista Street Building Assembly Room (1.338) at the UTSA Downtown Campus. The lecture is co-sponsored by the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute, which presents the Tech Talks Series.

This semester, the COA Lecture Series has focused on the impact of natural and man-made components on the built environment, while the institute has focused on areas of energy, water and their nexus.

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," said Afamia Elnakat, an associate professor in environmental sustainability with the Texas Sustainable Energy Research 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 effort to look at low-impact design."

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. Because a parking lot is typically the gateway through which dwellers, customers or employees pass before entering 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 a 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 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.

He received 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.

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For more information about the Nov. 7 lecture, email Nicole Chavez.