Parking Lot Paradise

October 13th, 2022

A space for pedestrians in a parking lot with trees and a bench.

Transportation needs in cities are changing. Sustainable urban economic development starts with accessibility for walkers, cyclists, and those on wheels. Climate resilience is a by-product of urban changes like building parking lots around active transportation. (Photo by GreenUP)

By NeighbourHOODs program, Peterborough GreenUP

Plaza parking lots, love them or not, are all around us. They are the places where all drivers become pedestrians – and that in-between space can be filled with emotions ranging from gratification to frustration.

The ability of unused or less-frequented lots to fill in gaps in cities means that they hold great opportunities as vibrant quasi-public spaces. While car parking needs are still high in our community, people are increasingly using active transportation to get to their destinations, which may mean using these spaces in creative ways.

As we transition into a society that favours active transportation methods like biking, walking, and rolling, parking lots can become areas that accommodate many transport needs in the community.

Not only that, but sustainable urban design can help make the journey across lots to be more enjoyable – turning those parking lot ‘woes’ into ‘wows’. Individuals and organizations can help transform cities in three easy ways:


1. Reflecting on Personal and Community Use of Parking Lots

Parking lots are not just spaces where you leave your tires, wheels, or footprints. They are transition spaces – destinations between points A to B. The space between your car and your end goal – whether it is stores, businesses, events, or centres – can be filled with just as much infrastructure to benefit your journey.

How do you use a parking lot? Note where you park your transportation tools and whether they require charging ports, road lanes, or repair stations. Do you have accessibility needs that are met, or ignored? In terms of aesthetics and amenities, begin noticing whether the lots you prefer have certain design elements, like benches, gardens, rest facilities, or artwork.

a garden with a bench for seating in a parking lot.

The Sustainable Technologies Green Parking Lot program in Kortright (not shown here) is setting an example of various practices that can be used to reduce the environmental impacts of conventional asphalt parking lots. Some of their suggestions, demonstrated here, include adding rain gardens and even can include aesthetic design elements like benches. (Photo by GreenUP)

It doesn’t take too much Googling to realize that lots can drive sustainable economic development for local businesses. The economic benefits of transforming a parking lot can be substantial, as fresh lot designs can increase curb appeal for businesses, decrease urban sprawl and increase foot traffic to retail outlets, and can even decrease expenses for public and privately owned spaces.

Your experience in parking lots is valued – and places like Peterborough have lots of room to adapt their spaces. Reflection while in these spaces can help you get a better grasp of how spaces can be improved.


2. Expose Yourself to the World of Green Infrastructure

Some parking lots in Ontario were designed decades ago to accommodate many vehicles of many sizes. As driving habits change, so do the accommodation needs for parking lots. Urban design that looks at the goals of the future, in addition to the needs of the present, are those that contribute to more sustainable communities.

Parking lots aren’t disappearing anytime soon. Sometimes, change is as simple as creatively reimagining unused space – for example, creating accessible pathways with beautiful native plants, changing light fixtures to energy-efficient models, or adding rest stations.

biodiverse garden with aesthetic seating in a parking lot.

Parking lots are static – but they can be filled with life. Installing biodiverse gardens can improve the curb-appeal of lots, increase wildlife, and can reduce physiological stress by diverting your attention from the frustration of parking (Hedblom et al., 2019, Scientific Reports). (Photo by GreenUP)

Going from grey to green doesn’t have to be an individual research project. There are many innovative ways that green organizations, local businesses, and community members have transformed their city infrastructure collaboratively.

Groups like GreenUP, through partners such as Green Communities Canada and diverse community support, have been transforming asphalt-heavy areas of Peterborough through the Depave Paradise program since 2014. Creating retrofit demonstrations, creating biodiverse greenspaces, and advocating for bike infrastructure continues to be the goal of many community members, organizations and businesses.


3. Share Your Voice

If you’re not about heavy-lifting, engineering or design, then transforming parking lots can be done with your voice.

Gathering feedback from on-the-ground public engagement opportunities, such as pop-up installations and face-to-face workshops, can help environmental organizations gather qualitative data about citizens’ values that can be used to help re-design cities.

For GreenUP’s NeighbourHOODs, this means finding Parking Lot Paradise in Peterborough/Nogojiwanong.

Market Plaza parking lot in Peterborough with a car at a stop sign with many parking spaces and cars. Can you reimagine this space?

What can you imagine in Market Plaza, Peterborough? (Photo by GreenUP)

From October 16th to the 18th, lend your voice at “In Search of Parking Lot Paradise” – a 3-day pop-up engagement event in Market Plaza – where community members collaborate on a vision of a reimagined plaza parking lot. By encouraging conversations about green infrastructure, accessibility, inclusion, design, and innovation in fun and interactive ways, we aim to – at least for a short time – turn a parking lot from ‘grey’ to ‘green’.

Visit greenup.on.ca/parking-lot-paradise or email Laura Keresteszi, Program Coordinator of NeighbourHOOD programs, for more information about events and partners that will be at Peterborough’s latest Parking Lot Paradise.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario announced a $23.25-million investment to establish My Main Street — a two-year program to support the recovery and revitalization of main streets and local businesses in southern Ontario. Support for the “In Search of Parking Lot Paradise” project was provided by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).


Through the My Main Street Community Activator program, the Canadian Urban Institute is delivering Government of Canada support across southern Ontario for local community placemaking projects, including events, activities, and community enhancements designed to draw visitors and increase local vibrancy.

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