Surface parking lots are seldom thought to be aesthetically pleasing. In fact, whether they are empty or cluttered with cars, the oil-stained asphalt areas are often considered downright ugly. Residents of Northeast LA – newcomers and old-timers alike – upon seeing photographs of beautiful buildings that once stood where strip-malls and surface parking lots exist today frequently lament the architectural losses. The damage can be observed throughout the neighborhood but there is no turning back to prevent the mistakes of the past.
Nowadays, locals are much more tuned into local development plans and it is difficult to imagine any existing buildings being demolished to create strip-malls or parking lots. Along much of Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock such development plans are explicitly prohibited thanks to the Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan. But there is no denying that we must live with many of the surface parking lots we have today into the foreseeable future, either out of necessity or because development can take decades to transform an area since it happens incrementally on a case-by-case basis.
However, this is not to say we are entirely helpless. While surface parking lots are unsightly and hinder a pleasant pedestrian experience, their damage can be mitigated to an extent through a relatively simple measure – adding landscaping in the form of trees.
One of the provisions of the Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan requires that businesses screen existing surface parking lots with a certain amount of landscaping. This is visible at Colorado Boulevard’s latest strip-mall, which re-purposed a former auto-body shop (a loophole to get around the “no strip-mall” provision), located on the corner of Glen Iris Ave. The landscaped buffer includes a couple trees which shade the sidewalk, a much appreciated feature on warm summer days. It is a small measure, but marks an improvement over doing nothing.
Below is another parking lot along Colorado Boulevard with minimal, but meaningful landscaping– trees are planted between parking spaces, utilizing space which would otherwise be useless asphalt.
Yet another example of pleasant landscaping in parking lots comes to us from the parking lot inside Yosemite Drive Park. In this case a potential parking space was removed but the mature tree in its place more than makes up for this loss with its large canopy providing shade
However, few parking lots in the neighborhood truly provide substantial landscaping, especially in the form of trees, which is a bit of a shame. One parking lot in particular which offers potential for landscaping improvements is the one in front of Delevan Elementary– the lot has considerable empty space along its periphery which serves no purpose. While visually unpleasing and featuring no landscaping, residents in the area utilize the Delevan Elementary parking lot to their benefit. Neighbors can often be spotted using the perimeter of the parking lot as a track, walking or running laps around it. With some thoughtful landscaping, the parking lot could provide shade (to pedestrians AND parked cars) and visually screen the otherwise harsh parking lot for surrounding residents.
Below is a before-and-after visualization of what could be achieved with only removing two parking spaces.
Borrowing the technique of planting trees between the parking spaces and featuring more greenspace along the corners, the parking lot could be more visually pleasant and useful. Yes, this may be a bit of a “band-aid solution,” but it is arguably a successful one. If you need further convincing Charles Marohn, of the highly regarded non-profit Strong Towns, narrates how such subtle landscaping can have a profound impact in the 2 minute video below
Is there a parking lot in Northeast LA you can think of which could be improved with some proper landscaping? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.