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The Magic of Transitional Places

Parking facilities are not merely temporary storage facilities for automobiles. They are also the interface or transition between the vehicular and pedestrian experience.

These modal intersections can be much more than utilitarian connection points. Consider train stations, which we associate with spectacular building forms and public areas. Union Station in Washington, D.C. and Grand Central Station in New York City come to mind as traditional examples. These environments are much more than simple transportation connection points; they have a special energy and excitement. In them, we transition from one point to another and there is a certain excitement related to movement, exploring new environments, the anticipation of a specific event, and the unknowns of a new place. All of these elements combine to create a special vitality. These places can capture and enhance the positive and magical elements that go along with being in the mode of journeying.

There are also many examples of how poorly-designed or maintained transitional places can lead to feelings of uncertainty, trepidation, and even fear. These types of experiences can have a dramatic effect on the overall experience, even if the final destination met all expectations.

Parking facilities are probably the most numerous and undervalued modal intersection points in the world. We should take a fresh look our facilities and how the experiences we generate have a direct bearing on businesses and functions that depend on us as their customer gateways.

Take a critical look at your parking facilities and re-imagine them as community gateways, designed to meet the special needs of sojourners transitioning from one mode of travel to another. The more we take on the ownership of our limited but critical segment of the journey, the more we enhance our value to our customers and our communities.

How are you enhancing your facility as a community gateway?

About L. Dennis Burns, CAPP

L. Dennis Burns, CAPP, is senior practice builder and regional vice president with Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. He is a columnist and frequent contributor to The Parking Professional magazine. He serves on the IPI Advisory Council, the Professional Development Task Force, and the Parking Program/Accreditation Task Force.


  1. Chris Gallagher says:

    Good points. If a parking garage is just a place for storing our car, a bedroom is just a storage space for our sleeping bodies. Please see below for a story about the art murals in the Palm Avenue Garage in Sarasota, Florida. Coincidentally Kimley Horn handled the Civil Engineering and Landscape Architecture. Also, please note that this garage was just award LEED Gold!

    City Celebrates Murals at Palm Avenue Garage
    The wind sail garage features murals on five levels to help people better recall what level they parked on.
    • By Charles Schelle
    • December 1, 2011

    Eduardo Kobra of Brazil painted this dance mural on the second level of the Palm Avenue Garage. Credit: Charles Schelle

    With all the artwork and the wind sails at the Palm Avenue Parking Garage, officials are having a tough time calling it a garage.
    Mary Anne Servian of Sarasota Ballet says the ballet’s director Iain Webb might have the best term — “car parks.”
    Whatever the term, officials and the arts community came out on a blustery Wednesday afternoon atop the $12 million Palm Avenue mural wonder to celebrate the completion of the deck and the artists’ work, which was completed during the Chalk Festival.
    “It’s a true representation of what this community values so highly, which are art and culture,” Mayor Suzanne Atwell said.
    Atwell said it’s unusual to discuss art in a parking garage of all places.
    “My husband and I were here last Saturday night and parked on the Ballet Dance Floor,” she said. “When was the last time I went to a parking garage—a structure — and we’re talking about the arts?”
    Drivers parking at the garage could talk about the Sarasota Ballet on the first level, the downtown music scene on the third level, the Sarasota Film Festival on the fourth level, the Sarasota Opera House on the fifth level and the Players Theatre on the roof.
    And that’s the goal, said the garage’s architect Jonathan Parks. Not only does it get you talking about the arts scene in Sarasota and how it relates, but also the art is actually quite useful.
    His team thought people would remember what floor they are on in terms of themes—dance, movies, music, opera, theater—and placed those in alphabetical order according to floor.
    The street level was intentionally left without murals because the structure itself is art, Parks said.
    “Architecture is the mother of all arts, so we asked the artists to leave that floor alone,” Parks said.
    Also, the risk is low that someone would graffiti tag over the murals because in graffiti culture, once someone sees a piece of work like that, they leave it alone, but just to be safe, there’s a special coating over the work that aides in the removal of vandalism.
    Denise Kowal, founder of the Sarasota Chalk Festival was amazed at all the work put in by the artists. Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra alone completed more than $100,000 worth of art all over the city, she said.
    Between Kobra and French artist MTO and others, who would have figured, she said, spray paint can be expensive.
    “I didn’t know you could accumulate tens of thousands of dollars worth of spray paint in one location,” she said.
    The Public Art Fund paid for the project for $25,000, according to city figures.
    And those artists are just cool, Parks said.
    “You can’t spend too much time with them because you feel so uncool—so stuff,” he said.
    The graffiti culture is typically a late-night one and Parks joked that some of the artists felt like they were getting away with something.
    “You’re absolutely getting away with something and because of that, give us your best work,” Parks told them. “And I have to say, I think we got their best work.”

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