Boston has almost 7.5 million square feet of designated, off-street parking space. Wide swaths of concrete, asphalt and steel, often spattered with oil from vehicles and salt from roadways.
The parking facilities in the city — and across the country — have long been land hogs. But that is changing, reports the U.S. Green Building Council.
Parksmart, formerly Green Garage Certification, is a relatively new addition to the sustainability rating systems administered by the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) and was developed with the support of the International Parking Institute. Parking facilities are rated on the basis of sustainable practices in management, programming, and technological design.
As a result, parking structures now have an opportunity to show communities how they can be more environmentally friendly, by finding innovative ways to reduce energy consumption, maximize performance, and minimize waste.
There are currently 10 Parksmart-certified facilities — all in the United States, though certification is open to facilities worldwide — and 63 sites pursuing certification, said Paul Wessel, the director of market development for Parksmart and the former executive director of the Green Parking Council.
“The ultimate goal of Parksmart is to create more mobility for more people, using fewer resources,” Wessel said. “All the pieces are there, or are emerging. Parksmart makes sure parking asset owners are at the front of the curve.”
Consider the Garage at Post Office Square in Boston’s Financial District, the first Parksmart-certified parking garage in Boston. Formerly a rundown, three-story, above-ground parking garage, today the Garage at Post Office Square is a modern, seven-story underground facility with a sophisticated ventilation system and eye-catching green roof: the 1.7-acre Norman B. Leventhal Park designed by Halvorson Design, dotted with trees, fountains and a gazebo-covered café.
John Dalzell, AIA, senior architect for sustainable development for the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) and a LEED Fellow, says the big story is how municipalities are leveraging GBCI rating systems to promote sustainability in cities and drive best practices.
“Parksmart gives us a new tool to drive sustainability and best practices for structured parking garages and marks a new milestone in that story,” he said.
Parksmart also offers an opportunity to explore partnerships between cities, private enterprise and the nonprofit community. Boston made the Garage at Post Office Square, formerly an above-ground parking garage, available for redevelopment. That process involved the local business community, which saw the value in having a public park as a beautiful amenity, as well as the additional parking made possible by the underground garage.
The Garage at Post Office Square is owned by a civic corporation made up of 20 Boston firms and individuals who have a strong interest in improving the Post Office Square district, Friends of Post Office Square. Creating a park, complete with free activities, had the support of the city of Boston and the local community, which were seeking ways to create more green space in the city.
“This isn’t just about how the city works with Post Office Square, but how cities work with organizations like the real estate company and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC),” Dalzell said. USGBC, he adds, provided the means for the city to define acceptable practice and the market recognition to reward leading practitioners.
Parking structures have been “a glaring gap” in environmentally minded construction, Dalzell said. “They have an enormous impact. We see Parksmart as a new, important addition to the suite of green building and sustainability rating systems.”
Located completely below ground, the Garage at Post Office Square is invisible to people in Boston’s busy downtown. The only landmark is the Norman B. Leventhal Park, set above the garage. The park, a respite from the urban traffic and busy sidewalks, offers places to relax while its trees and flowers absorb CO2 and give out oxygen.
In the summer, the park offers free music concerts and fitness classes organized and provided by Friends of Post Office Square.
The Post Office Square Garage is certified at Parksmart’s Pioneer level, as are all existing qualified parking facilities that earn certification. (The Pioneer level is currently the only designation for existing garages.) New facilities, or those commissioned within two years of registration, are eligible for bronze, silver or gold certification.
Since the certification, Friends of Post Office Square has formed a consortium with Boston Medical Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to purchase credits for alternative energy, produced at Summit Farms, a solar facility in northeastern North Carolina.
“Under our Power Purchase Agreement, we’re offsetting 847 kilowatts of electricity annually,” Messenger said. “This is the equivalent of the entire annual electric bill for the garage and the park.”
For Boston, Parksmart and other GBCI rating systems have the potential to open a new pathway in an expanding vision for a more environmentally sustainable future. In addition to Parksmart, Boston has already set precedents, said Dalzell at the BPDA, including a first-in-the-nation zoning ordinance that requires projects of more than 50,000 square feet to achieve LEED certification. The zoning ordinance turned 10 years old this year.
Boston continues to demonstrate leadership when it comes to building strategies and best practices in sustainability. In January, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh committed Boston to be carbon neutral by 2050.
“We can look at Parksmart to provide a framework for low-impact/high-performance parking facilities with energy storage, electric-vehicle charging and solar canopies,” Dalzell said. “Parksmart fills an important gap in our strategy.”