An 'Earth Friendly' Parking Garage in Chicago Begs the Question: What is 'Green'?

With wind turbines, a "daylighting" system, and charging stations for electric cars, Chicago's Greenway Self-Park bills itself as the city's first "earth friendly parking garage." John Greenfield asks, can a downtown garage truly be eco-friendly?
October 25, 2012, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Built by Friedman Properties, the eleven-story, 715-space parking garage does not shy from showcasing its "green" credentials. "Its logo features a VW Bug with leaves blowing out of the tailpipes rather than noxious fumes," says Greenfield. But even though it was "constructed from 'local and sustainable' building materials" and rents spaces to Zipcar and I-GO car-sharing services, is there anything green about a facility that makes "it easy for, say, a guy from Naperville to drive solo to work every day in his Lexus, instead of taking Metra commuter rail," asks Greenfield. 

Michael Burton, a sustainable transportation activist who co-founded Chicago's Critical Mass ride offers his unvarnished answer: "A green parking structure!" he emails. "What's next, a LEED-certified strip mine? Any infrastructure that encourages private automobile use instead of rapid transit, walking and/or biking is inherently environmentally unfriendly. Using green technology to market a new parking structure is simply cynical greenwashing. A s- sandwich with honey mustard is still a s- sandwich."

Dave Lombardi, vice president with garage manager Standard Parking, offers a sound defense: "If the reasoning is we should eliminate all garages, well, that isn't living in reality. It's easy to stand back and criticize, but Friedman Properties has put forth the dollars to pass along the message of environmentalism. In a perfect world all cars would be electric and there would be no exhaust. But to get to a completely green society there are some stops along the way."

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Published on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 in Grid Chicago
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