A shady place to park during a scorching summer

The cows are standing in the ponds to cool off, cars are clustered under trees for shade, if a driver is lucky enough to find a tree in the parking lot. Self driving cars perhaps will have computers noting what parking lots have shade.

This is a competitive time of year for some drivers. They know if they get to the spot under the tree at work ahead of everyone else they might avoid getting into a car that is scorching hot with all kinds of chemicals floating around inside thanks to sunlight beating through the windows.

A shady place to park is a rarity. Why you wonder, would something so simple be so hard to find. Especially when trees provide beauty, produce oxygen, and cool neighborhoods.

But alas, we have a culture that believes parking lots need be asphalt deserts.  And concrete is the only way to drain storm water.

It doesn’t have to be these way. We can all have cooler places to park in the heat of summer. Water running off parking lots can be cleaner and have a chance to percolate down to groundwater.

I first noticed an alternative several years ago while attending noted TWA pilot John Testrake’s funeral in Richmond, Mo. I got to the funeral home early on a hot summer day. In the center of the gravel parking lot was a big spreading bur oak. I parked beside the tree trunk for blessed shade. The other early arrivals did the same. Other attendees returned to cars baked in the sun.

What does it matter, how hot can a car get?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: “When temperatures outside range from 80 degrees to 100 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172.”

I wouldn’t argue with that, as I’ve missed some shady parking opportunities this summer and climbed into a car that tries to melt me.

I do feel more is possible because I work at a place that, if I’m quick and alert, some tree shade is available for parking. My green design workplace, the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center, has bioswales in the parking lot. Water runs off the pavement into the swales. The swales are lined with rock, planted in a monoculture of decorative plants, or planted with native plants. They clean and absorb runoff. Other water soaks down into the ground. If a big enough storm hits, the water is directed to storm sewers. But much water that would otherwise go dirty into rivers instead get absorbed or used by plants.

Those plants in places include trees. Some, like a sycamore in mid-swale, are starting to get enough height and width to provide serious shade. Slower growers like oaks are beginning to make a difference at a large parking lot less than two decades old. Also helping, trees planted near sidewalks beside the parking lot that are close enough to be shade providers for cars.

The difference between misery and somewhat warm is being lucky enough to get one of the shaded parking lots.

I bring this up in midsummer because much of Platte County remains to be developed. This is a letter of wishing to developers and the bankers who bankroll them. Please, take a look at green design and give us more shade.

On Monday, I took a drive around some relatively recent business development at Platte City. I noticed a tire business where employees were going to pick up some late afternoon shade. But elsewhere, full sun. Landscaping was dotted with mostly non-native trees that don’t help the butterflies or birds and provide little shade.

Google bioswales and you’ll find plenty of info. Here’s a link to a good site if you’re in a hurry, bit.ly/2J51IdT.

As we build or rebuild Platte County, let’s think greener, cooler, and cleaner. There are ways astute and thoughtful builders can make parking lots less miserable in summer.



Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at editor@plattecountycitizen.com.