Do you want to learn about parking lot construction?
It’s not every day that you get a tour of a parking lot, but on Tuesday afternoon, Colin and I joined a small group of water quality enthusiasts to look at improvements being made to the 100 acre lot surrounding the Maplewood Mall.
The tour was led by Cliff Aichinger from the Ramsey-Washington-Metro Watershed District. He explained that the Maplewood Mall project is the first of its kind in the United States, and one of the largest parking lot retrofits that he is aware of. When it’s finished it will be a massive and very public demonstration of water quality infrastructure. It’s pretty exciting when you think about the impact, both on water and public education.
Entrances to the mall will be redesigned so that water from the roof will be funneled into a cistern that will help to slow the water and clean it before it heads into the storm water system. The cistern itself was designed with input from artists and exhibit developers, who hope it will be more than just decoration; it will also have interactive features that invite visitors to learn and play.
The parking lot is also being outfitted with rain gardens and tree trenches, a technology that’s popular in Sweden, but hasn’t taken off here. The engineers involved in planning this made tweaks to Swedish designs to allow them to work with our climate and soil profile. Essentially, the trees live in a bed of rocks that catch and filter the water as it leaves the parking lot. These improvements will lead to a measurable decrease in water & phosphorous pollution rushing to nearby Kohlman Lake.
For us, it was fascinating to see such an important project going in at a shopping mall, and to know that the planning involved experts from a variety of fields. The mall owners (who happen to own more malls than any other company in the US) are really excited about the project, and if it’s successful, are interested in other projects like this in other places.
We’ve been asked to join a team of people thinking about how to bring this project into the public consciousness, and will be helping to plan a big kick-off event this spring for the mall and the watershed district. We’re interested in what role art and artists might have, as well as scientists and engineers, in really helping people to understand and embrace this amazing project in their community.
More about the project can be found here.