The Italian term “parcheggio” sounds so much better than its English counterpart, “parking garage.” And in terms of function, it is, says landscape architect Kevin Sloan.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘parking garage’,” Sloan says. “It’s a scary, dark place where the pipes are hanging too low.”

A parcheggio, however, invokes a different nuance. In Italy, these are often park-and-rides outside of cities where people can leave their cars then use public transportation to travel to and within the city. Parcheggios are “the first experience,” Sloan says, “not just a box for putting cars in.” Many include coffee shops, retail stores, restaurants and comfortable shade for people waiting to board trains or buses.

Perhaps most importantly, Sloan says, a parcheggio “simplifies the problem of parking because it gives you, psychologically, a destination before you start your trip.”

Sloan is chairman of the city’s Urban Design Peer Review Panel, which evaluates project proposals from developers asking the city for government handouts. He also was part of an early effort to design a deck park over Woodall Rogers Freeway, which today is the popular Klyde Warren Park. So he knows a thing or two about Dallas’ ongoing battle between concrete and communal spaces.

Consider the dozens of flat, asphalt city blocks intermixed among the downtown skyscrapers, Sloan points out: “The problem in downtown Dallas is too much parking,” he argues, “but people feel like there’s a lack of parking because the lots are too spread out.”

Lakewood Shopping Center has the same problem on a smaller scale. There is no single place to park; there are several. The most obvious place is right outside the driver’s destination, but when no spaces are available — as is often the case on weekends and even week nights, thanks to the uptick in restaurants and bars — it leads to an “every man for himself” situation, with cars haphazardly circling through the various lots.

This creates the opposite of a pedestrian-friendly environment.

“Could we compel the entire Lakewood area to have a parcheggio?” Sloan asks. “We over-individualize — this is my building and this is my property. We should centralize the parking, concentrate the cars, put them where they least offend the pedestrian environment. It makes the problem of parking easy to master.”

It doesn’t have to be a “dull utilitarian structure with florescent lighting,” Sloan argues. Look at NorthPark Center with its light and bright garages. Developer Ray Nasher was a very smart man, Sloan says.

“He didn’t want to drive the customers away because they were frightened by the parking structures. He realized that it can’t be an impediment to shoppers,” Sloan says.

The simple difference of NorthPark’s garages, or “garage-like buildings,” Sloan says, is the design.

“Women don’t feel scared when parking at NorthPark,” he says. “If you just rewire the problem — turn the garage from being an engineering problem to an experience — suddenly whatever it is doesn’t provoke the same reaction to, ‘Well, we’re gonna hafta build a parking garage.’

“If a structure is inevitable, the parcheggio has to be the medium. If the people are going to be frightened to go in it, it ultimately negates itself.”

Another key, Sloan says, is that a parcheggio shouldn’t merely add parking spots to a location; it should allow for conversion of parking lots to parks and public space. NorthPark, ever the innovator, did this during its 2006 expansion, turning an original parking garage into CenterPark, a grassy field in the core of NorthPark’s outer square where children play, couples recline on picnic blankets and shoppers enjoy both a bit of nature and a quick cut-through.

Public space and parking doesn’t have to be an either-or, Sloan points out. “What if we designed a plaza or a garden that could temporarily store cars?” he asks. One example is the Trinity Groves “parking field” fronting Singleton, with decomposed granite and trees “so at any moment you can clear the cars out and have the starting area of a 5k,” Sloan says, or hold a street festival. It makes the parking area polyfunctional rather than monofunctional.

“And to individuals who say, ‘Oh that’s ridiculous,’ ” Sloan says, “so is putting a park over Woodall Rogers Freeway.”

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