Underrated: The Gift of Shade

Sno Biz Tent City

Consider this monstrosity, a dining area next to a Sno-Biz stand in the middle of a parking lot. It’s a series of canopies set up complete with astro-turf and plastic plants and apparently intended to suggest a pleasant respite from the heat. Of course, it’s nothing but ugly (though shaved ice is all the more refreshing under these conditions).

This unbearably hot summer has me tipping my hat to Joni Mitchell’s observation that we “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.” How ironic that we would clear cut a swath through the abundant trees around Birmingham to then set up a tent city on asphalt? I’m all for enjoying shaved ice, and I admire anyone making a blank space into a hub of activity where someone is providing a service and generating revenue. I realize this little spot could be…just asphalt. But it really bugs me that developers plow through land without regard to the value of shade.

Trussville High School Parking Lot

Here’s a place that did it right: Trussville High School. It’s practically unrecognizable as a parking lot, with parking pads poured in small but coherent sections under a canopy of trees.  It feels calming just to drive into. And while I couldn’t recommend it for a secure retail spot (no one would want to wander through trees outside the Galleria at night, for example), it’s a beautiful alternative to hot, black pavement spreading out in all directions.

The next time you treck across a baking hot parking lot to get into a steaming hot car, don’t just blame the weather. It doesn’t have to be like this. We just have to stop the mindless paving and work around the features we’ve already got.