It's About More than Just Scoring the Perfect Parking Place: 'Rethinking a Lot'

We tend to forget that the parking lot is where organic social interactions occur. It's where teens meet. It’s the site of business handshakes. Generally speaking, the parking lot is the site where the beginning and/or end of many relationships occur.

Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking

Publisher: MIT Press
Length: 179 pages
Author: Eran Ben-Joseph
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-03

You’ve just arrived and you cannot find a parking space. There are several cars driving in the parking lot, all seeking that one spot. You and the others on the lot drive with purpose, methodically looking for the reverse lights of those who would be vacating a spot.

After 20 minutes, you finally find a space and you're free to meet with friends. This leads to a discussion about more parking being needed, which leads to a discussion of recent building developments in the area, real estate, lifestyle preferences and personal philosophies on how the city should grow… all because you couldn’t find a parking space. f you’ve ever been involved in any part of this scenario, then, according to Eran Ben-Joseph, a parking lot can have a lot more significance in our lives than we commonly perceive.

When discovering important histories of American architecture and planning, most often, one finds several elaborate narratives involving buildings, people of varied professions, and public policies at the forefront. While several texts have managed to thoroughly point to the invention of automobile as one the driving forces behind where and how Americans, particularly post WWII Americans live, the narrative that often gets omitted is that of the parking lot.

At a glance, one would think that there's no story of interest about parking lots; you build buildings, and then you have parking for cars that will park near said buildings. Beyond the obvious use of parking lots, tailgaters, skateboarders, vendors, fairs, organizers, and recreational athletes all inhabit these spaces to gather, meet, and socialize. Ben-Joseph attempts to shed light on the fact that in the past and present, we use and value parking lots more than we think.

Considered an afterthought, the parking lot is often not more than an architectural accessory in the minds of most. We forget, however, that the parking lot is where organic social interactions occur. The parking lot is where teens meet. It’s the site of business handshakes. Generally speaking, the parking lot is the site where the beginning and/or end of many relationships occur.

The cynic in us could reject Ben-Joseph’s optimistic tone as bright-eyed utopianism. We could point to the parking lot as the breeding ground for crime and other suspicious behavior. We could say that parking is dangerous or unpredictable. Reading further, those positive experiences that exist in or adjacent to parking spaces daily become more apparent. The author doesn’t rush to this conclusion. He walks through the practical history of the parking lot, and naturally, the automobile. Methodically, perhaps too methodically, it begins by building an understanding of how the invention of the automobile altered American life; our activities, our way of thinking, our concept of time.

While this is one in a line of books that discusses the history and social evolution of parking lots in America, it provides more examples of how people are creatively using parking spaces today, including ReBar, the collective of architects, artists and planners out of San Francisco who have an annual protest called Parking Day, where parking spaces are purchased, replaced with green space, and inhabited. Ben-Joseph highlights these recent developments well, but not enough.

Nearly all that can be covered about American parking is in this short book, which is a plus. It seems, however that more of an investigation is needed regarding the opportunities for the future uses of parking lots both new and old. In lieu of the already thoroughly romanticized American past relationship with the automobile, there could have been a shift toward the future, toward more solutions. Ben-Joseph seems content with the simple addition of more trees to pacify both the developer, who needs a selling point, and environmentalists.

The question that remains is how new uses of this ubiquitous public space affect social interactions in the future. How can we pro-actively use completely abandoned parking lots as sites of positive social interaction instead of as dumping grounds? What effect has the economy had on present and future activity in some parking lots? What can we ultimately learn to propel forward in our use of one of America’s largest open public spaces? These questions are approached, but not thoroughly investigated.

That approach to define possible future activity can be informative for those in various design communities who pick up this book. Designers will be given a lot of new cultural insight that can be useful the next time they catch themselves mindlessly plugging parking into their designs without any acknowledgement of the potential. There's plenty here to remind the designer that they should design the entire site, not just the building.

Ben Joseph also reminds us all that our use of public space leads to the kind of organic formulation of life experiences and social interaction that no electronic appliance can provide. While we are driving, seeking a parking space, before we meet with friends, we aren’t aware of the fact that we are driving in a playing field, a rehearsal studio, a stage, a restaurant, a market, or a gallery. Rethinking a Lot tells us that maybe we should. It tells us that perhaps cars are among the least important things that we put in some parking lots.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.