Opinion: They paved paradise and painted it green

The city of Phoenix recently covered a newly constructed parking lot, located across the street from Taylor Place, with a green layer of concrete in an attempt to reduce urban heat-island effect. (Evie Carpenter/DD)

Perhaps it was the recent inspiration of the Green Hornet and Green Lantern. Or maybe our old-timer city officials still can’t get over Gumby’s removal from television.

Nonetheless, the city is days away from opening the controversial parking lot at the site of the old Ramada Inn on Taylor Street between First and Second streets. And it could not finish it without one last controversial splash –- literally.

Nearby workers woke up this week to find the parking lot painted a pasty green. The city says it sprayed the surface with a reflective sealant that will cool the surface by 25 to 30 degrees. The coating cost the city $100,000, increasing the parking lot’s total expense to $1.1 million. Absurd? Yes.

Jeremy Legg, a city economic-development-program manager, told the Arizona Republic this week: “We wanted to make the parking lot as green as possible. We came across this green, new, cool pavement. It’s a tinted concrete that you can spray on like paint over the asphalt.”

Is this city really trying to say they are “going green” by building a parking lot? This doesn’t even deserve the analogy of putting lipstick on a pig because this is even more batty.

I guess Dr. Seuss always longed to cook his eggs on our Phoenix asphalt.

Did the city ever consider not building a parking lot at all? The lot is detrimental to the foundation of a downtown urban core. No successful, bustling downtown city in America is rooted around parking lots. People take buses, rails or bikes into the city, and if there is parking, it is mostly isolated to a few metered spots and underground. A downtown needs foot traffic, not car traffic.

Furthermore, there is already enough parking downtown. A frequent complaint among ASU students is that this is not the case, but I would recommend everyone take their parking questions and frustrations to the city. According to a study completed for the Downtown Phoenix Partnership in 2006, the downtown core has 9,947 excess spots at the busiest point of the week.

Some have suggested we support the city’s decision to put this reflective material down. But what initiated the city to paint this parking lot green and dazzle it up as friendly for the environment?

A lawsuit.

On July 15, the Superior Court will finally hear community member Sean Sweat’s appeal against the city and the mayor-appointed Board of Adjustments. Sweat argues the city breaks city code by building this parking lot, and he has a solid case that it is damaging to the downtown neighborhood. But now, the city will assert the notion it built a “green” parking lot.

The city used more taxpayer money in an attempt to paint over its wrongdoing.

So why does the city refuse to back down? Next door, the Sheraton Hotel invested $1 million into helping purchase the land. And now, the city must hold its end of the deal in giving them space for overflow hotel parking. If it were to lose the lawsuit, the parking lot would be history.

Remember the dog park idea? This wild controversy is why neighbors in the community proposed the concept in the first place. They wanted to give the city an alternative, community-benefiting, low-expense option for the land until ASU begins construction on the law school.

The city needs to make an honest U-turn in its downtown policy.

Yet, until that day comes, let us bid adieu to “Her Secret is Patience.” There is a new work of art in town. The “Green Goblin” has officially moved in.

What’s Phoenix going to do next? Take all the trees and put them in a tree museum?

Vaughn Hillyard is a journalism junior at the Walter Cronkite School and the founder and president of ASU Downtown Alive!


  1. If this is the City of Phoenix’s idea of “going green,” then we’re all doomed. Taking a parking lot, which is the anathema of “going green” and painting it green is an insult and a slap in the face toward all those who want to make downtown Phoenix a walkable, urban, sustainable environment.

  2. This is “greenwashing” at its best! All through out the process we kept getting pushed back in a corner as the city moved on with their plans despite the public input/outcry. We were left fighting for the scraps that don’t come close to dealing with the original issue: we had a perfectly good set of structures that could have been lightly rehabbed for interim community energizing spaces; even if the east building was removed, parking was installed and trees were adequately sized to provide real shade of the pavement from the get go, it would have have garnered more community support and reduced overall costs ($ and environmental). BTW, they removed the public street parking on Taylor so they could extend the “plaza” along the parking lot from across 1st St. Once again, privatizing a public space/utility that is paid for my public dollars. Besides, who is going to walk on that side where the trees are barely taller than the pedestrians and don’t provide any meaningful shade?

    On the positive side, the lot (not land cost) can be recovered in its permitted life-span if each space brought in $4 every weekday for the next 5 years. At least I’m comforted that it is built for 20 years, so in 10 years when they request their second 5-year “temporary” use extension, it will still be relatively in good shape. One can only hope.

  3. Interesting to know the cost of this. That’s a lot of money. I wouldn’t call it “lipstick on a pig”, though. The City came up with a new solution to the serious problem of having created a big griddle in the middle of the city. I’m curious to know the temperature difference between this and untreated dirt.

    Now that it exists, wouldn’t it be more productive than complaining to start thinking about what could be done with a big, flat paved surface? There’s already a farmer’s market downtown. What if there was a monthly dedicated flea market? Or crafts market? Or antiques market? Or car club show? Or RC car race? Or what if the boy scouts moved their monthly electronics recycling/swap meet to Phoenix from its current location in Scottsdale?

    Yes, it’s a parking lot but what hobbies would it like to have in its spare time?

  4. Perhaps the City of Phoenix should look west for some inspiration. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, Inc. made a presentation yesterday for Apple’s new corporate complex. One of the key parts of his proposal was reducing surface parking, putting it all underground and replacing the concrete parking lots with trees and apricot orchards. That is what it really means to be green, putting in living plants that reduce carbon footprint, reducing radiant heat, and improve air quality (something this city is in DESPERATE need of).

  5. Slightly tangential, but I also want to reiterate what Thomas brought up: The City removed 300 feet of street parking to make more room for this parking lot. It may not be immediately intuitive, but street parking is a positive thing for pedestrians. It seems the city rapes our pedestrian environment every chance they get.

    It’s also something quick and easy for people looking for somewhere to park for short periods of time, rather than having to go into a massive lot and pay the lot fee.

    They just absolutely don’t understand how to develop and foster a healthy downtown; all they seem to understand is sprawl-oriented policy. We need a small Downtown Mgmt dept in City Hall that TOTALLY “gets” it, and through which ALL City actions in/for downtown must pass before implementation.

  6. Though I agree with what you’re saying about putting “lipstick on a pig”, that parking lot is only temporary property of the city. When ASU has the money (if it ever has the money), the university is planning on buying the lot back and turning it into the downtown law school. While a park would be nice, it’s turning into another piece of the concrete jungle eventually – does it really matter whether that’s now or later?

  7. amazing, how silly are the people who proposed & approved this. the one thing that could create community in this area, was taken away. it was a perfect place to build a congregating place for the community, with parking below. another wasted million was spent by our city folk. with all of this heat in arizona we need more places to shop, eat, drink & enjoy, not another parking lot. there is no love for the pedestrian in arizona, but they are spending tons of money on the light rail to bring pedestrians to downtown, for what? to check out all the empty parking lots?

    city folk, learn what constitutes a city, then study ways to enhance it, seems all your doing is trying to separate us- via concrete parking lots.

  8. The one other piece I wish I had added was the fact that the timeline for the law school’s move is still very much up in the air. The university is saying they hope to start construction in five years, but they are not able to commit to that. Currently, there is no funding for the school. They will not be taking state funds either. The dean of the law school is also transferring schools at this time. There is nothing stopping the city from granting itself an extension on the use of the space as the parking lot at the end of this five years.

  9. Wow. We thought we were doing the community a favor by trying to eliminate the heat sink create by asphalt. Just to let you know, we are not involved in any of this, only trying to help the citizens of this city which is heating up from wall to wall asphalt, buildings and cars, like every other sprawling metropolis.

    for what its worth, the parking lot is there there, and its already doing its job. Its not even the dead heat of summer and the parking lot is 20 degrees cooler than the adjacent asphalt on 1st street. It a wonder full cool location at night because of the drainage and trees they did put in.

    I invite all of you to attend the seminar at the Westin tomorrow where the head of the Department of Energy Urban Heat Island Group is speaking about the importance of cooling existing asphalt in our cities now. Why. Yesterday marked a record breaking heatwave in major cities across sunbelt states. 2010 was the hottest year in recorded history. Asphalt,cars and population density are heating the cities. We invented the product to try to address existing asphalts heat sinks in the cities.

    It would have been nice to have a park. But for the moment, if the city ultimately makes money and has also not contributed to the disasterous effects of black asphalt, then you’ve got to at least give them credit for trying.

  10. Sheri, the issue isn’t with you or your product, the issue is with the City. There’s a lot of bad history regarding that specific block that you probably don’t know about, and it’s a relatively complex situation.

    Your product is great for already-existing asphalt. However, in the future, and quite obviously in this case, many of us worry that your product is going to be used by the City and developers as an excuse to create more parking lots. That’s not YOUR fault — that’s the fault of city government simply not catching up to the 21st century of urban planning, transportation, sustainability, and local economics.

    Your product may be ground-breaking, but our govt is decades behind.

  11. Vaughn, I agree, the city made a mistake building that parking lot and the greenest thing they could do is admit that rather than painting it as a “green” project. However, I think it’s important as Sean mentioned to not knock the actual product that was used to make the parking lot cooler, I think this product is very interesting and has a ton of potential for EXISTING parking lots. Kudos to Sheri Roese for this innovative product which unfortunately is being used for damage control on a bad project.

  12. Before I begin, Vaughn, is it safe to assume that if someone is putting all the trees in a tree museum, that they’d start charging us a dollar and a half to see them?

    Anyways, Counting Crows references buried, I’d like to question the study from the Downtown Phoenix partnership and what the numbers look like today. Thanks to the recent upswing of activity downtown, I wonder if those numbers are similar or not-I take them with a grain of salt since the area covered by that study has seen quite a bit more people down and about there, and the changes that have happened in five years are pretty impressive.

    Just something I’d like to see.

  13. @Tony: valid point, just as long as we factor in the moving capacity of the light rail, which is also a new addition since that parking study that should be factored in to significantly reduce the demand side of the parking equation.