Could a crumbling patch of parking lot asphalt hold the key for making our cities more sustainable, resilient and safer in the face of global climate change and severe weather? In fact, it can help create a model for sustainable living, according to designer Elliott Maltby and her team at thread collective, an architecture and landscape design firm. The are doing just that in N.Y., with a “green infrastructure project” that will reduce flooding, eliminate sewer outfalls to open waters, and even keep nearby plants lush and green.
Known as the Cannoneer Court Parking Lot Retrofit, this work at Pratt Institute is a collaboration between thread collective architect Gita Nandan and landscape architect Maltby – both also visiting professors at Pratt – along with students and the professors Paul Mankiewicz and Jaime Stein, who coordinate Pratt’s Sustainable Environmental Systems. Funding is through a Green Infrastructure Grant from the NYC 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, adds the landscape architect Maltby.
“This is an atypical approach to a parking lot retrofit which traditonally would include replacing the failed asphalt and reconnecting the lot to the city’s combined sewer systems,” Maltby adds. “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,” adds Maltby. She says 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.
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 under way, with plantings scheduled for the spring.