Can a crumbling patch of parking lot asphalt hold the key for making cities more sustainable, resilient, and safer in the face of global climate change and severe weather?
Designer Elliott Maltby and her team at thread collective, a national architecture and landscape design firm, think so. The team is creating a model for sustainable living at a parking lot at Pratt Institute‘s Brooklyn campus in New York City, with a green infrastructure project that will reduce flooding, eliminate sewer outfalls to open waters, and keep nearby plants lush and green.
Known as the Cannoneer Court Parking Lot Retrofit, this innovative work is a collaboration between Maltby and thread collective architect Gita Nandan — both visiting professors at Pratt — along with students and professors Paul Mankiewicz and Jaime Stein, who coordinate Pratt’s Sustainable Environmental Systems. Funding is through a Green Infrastructure Grant from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
The project blends traditional sustainable features with smart placement of innovative materials. A series of trenches guides excess water to places where it can sink into the ground and is absorbed or evaporates into the atmosphere.
The trenches deliver water to planted areas, known as bioswales, where the water is naturally filtered and cleaned before entering the ground. From there, the water flows to a nearby garden which, along with porous pavers, allows the water to seep into the ground and keep it out of municipal sewers. This is a critical function during heavy storms, rainfalls, or rapid snowmelt.
The plants are all native varieties that take up water through their roots and efficiently turn the water into gas quickly, explains Maltby.
“This is an atypical approach to a parking lot retrofit which traditionally would include replacing the failed asphalt and reconnecting the lot to the city’s combined sewer systems,” says Maltby. “Instead of repaving the lot — only to have it flood yet again — we are constructing a solution that reduces our reliance on century-old sewer systems and utilizes the water in a sustainable way.”
“We see great potential in this retrofit and believe it could work as a blueprint for replication beyond the campus,” she adds.
The retrofit application can be completed with little to no disruption to parking lot capacity, making it appealing to both large institutions and commercial organizations, according to Maltby.
The team estimates the retrofitted lot will capture 2.5 inches of rainfall during an eight-hour storm, equivalent to more than 68,000 gallons of water. Each year in New York City alone, some 27 billion gallons of polluted storm water, snowmelt, and raw sewage flow directly into waterways.
Construction is currently underway, with plantings scheduled for Spring 2016.