As our culture, and more specifically, the development and design industries follow our movement into greater sustainability and “green” practices, more thought is necessary.  My observation of design is that many architects, engineers, landscape architects, planners, etc. have become very good at standardization of design.  We break down a project into components that a standard can be met and move on to the next step.  While this creates greater amounts of efficiency, it treats design elements as monotonous entities that could literally be anywhere.  This is also a common criticism of suburbia, where a subdivision in New Hampshire might look exactly the same as a subdivision in Phoenix, Fargo, Orlando or Kansas City.  It is not context sensitive to the culture and indigenous materials of its region.  We need to be more critical of the practice standards and consider alternatives for the basics such as curbs, paving and walls.

This "low impact" solution for storm water management in parking lots is effective in directing storm water to the plant material but can become very costly with excessive concrete curbs and curb cuts. Photo from Light Imprint Handbook by DPZ Charlotte.

I previously wrote a blog post about Light Imprint (LI) and its advantages in contrast to Low Impact Development (LID).  Light Imprint, as well as Steve Mouzon’s “The Original Green“, look at sustainable features in a holistic, more economical and historical manner.  I believe that there are a lot of merits and advantages of LID and its role in sustainability.  LID has opened the minds of the development industry to develop with more considerations for the environment.  Low-Impact Development standards for parking lot storm water management may call for curb cuts to allow storm water to infiltrate into the parking islands to add natural irrigation to plant material instead of simply directing the storm water into storm drains.  This is a great feature and it will save some costs in regards to irrigation for the plants, however it comes with a cost of not only constructing the curbs, but to construct them with strategically placed curb cuts.

This parking lot solution utilizes storm water management solutions for the rainwater at the point of contact rather than directing the water to other sources. Photo from Light Imprint Handbook by DPZ Charlotte.

In contrast, Light Imprint looks at the parking lot as a whole utilizing porous materials (crushed rock, not the expensive “porous asphalt”) which reduce the heat island effect and allow water to be absorbed before it can even become “storm water” during a light rain.  In lieu of the curbs and curb cuts, Light Imprint may utilize stone or another indigenous material to define the planting island and allow water to penetrate the island in the voids of the stone.  As seen in the image, trees in Light Imprint, may not even require their own island, but stand-alone in the porous paving material.