Would You Choose an Apartment That Traded a Parking Space for a Garden?

The future of green living is coming soon to Boston, Massachusetts.

Boston green apartment building
Who needs a parking space? What you really need in the middle of the city is your own private oasis. (Courtesy of Sebastian Mariscal Studio)
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

When I moved from Los Angeles to New York City, one of the first things I gladly gave up was my car. Yet despite all the plentiful and efficient public transportation, I was surprised to find that a parking space was one of the marketing features of many of the new apartment buildings that began cropping up. In Boston, the city actually requires architects and developers to provide parking spots in all new residential constructions.

But architect Sebastian Mariscal, who is the developer as well as the architect for a proposed 18,000-square-foot, 44-unit residential building in Boston's Allston neighborhood, has a greener option—inserting gardens in spots usually reserved for parking spots.

“Prior to beginning the design process, we extensively researched the challenges of the area in conjunction with the environmental demands of our time,” Mariscal tells TakePart, “and both helped define the project's program and concepts. The decrease of traffic and increase of green space were the two main goals of this project. We see them as intimately related since both are important to improving a city dweller’s quality of life.”

Mariscal believes that one of the main challenges of greener architecture, aside from focusing on reducing energy consumption, is the ability to improve a resident’s quality of life.

“We like to include as many green technologies in our buildings as possible, but the essence of our approach to sustainability is to propose buildings and cities that are designed once again for the people,” he says.

“I see open green space, both public and private, as a primary component of our architecture," Mariscal explains. "It's in these voids where the most interesting human engagements occur. In addition to increasing dialogue between people and nature, these voids reduce the amount of conditioned space in the building and, therefore, reduce energy consumption.”

Mariscal designed open green spaces throughout the building, including a public garden, private gardens, and a rooftop farm.

The 7,000-square-foot public garden is on the ground level and is intended to join the two main streets bordering the site. “I wanted to erase the rigid boundary between public and private and extend the city into my building and vice versa,” says Mariscal. “Retail spaces, an outdoor gym, and an outdoor cinema surround this space, all of which will increase the community's engagement with the building.”

Each apartment unit has its own private green space. “I envision them as outdoor rooms where traditional interior activities could be carried out, like dining or entertaining,” says Mariscal. “Each ‘outdoor room’ is about 12 feet by 12 feet and is open to the sky and full of vegetation.”

On the roof, 70 percent of the area is dedicated to gardening. Mariscal says that the idea is that each rental unit would include a small piece of ground for people to grow their own vegetables. “This is healthier for residents, both physically and psychologically, less expensive, and environmentally attractive,” says Mariscal. The rest of the roof is given over to a lounge space for cooking and dining that has a view of downtown.

Mariscal’s design is still making its way through the community approval process, but he’s hopeful that the neighborhood will embrace the project and that it will lead to a better discussion about new alternatives to development in urban areas.

“Cities should once again be a laboratory of ideas where experimentation can engage changing needs,” he says. “Rigid zoning regulations and/or the fear of change from some sectors of the community can limit our capacity to address new problems.”

Editor's Note: On March 14, the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved Mariscal's plan—though with a caveat. Instead of six parking spots for so-called smart cars, as Mariscal originally planned, he'll have to insert 35 parking spaces, according to UniversalHub.com. However, according to Sebastian Mariscal Studio, their intention is still going to be to rent to zero-vehicle tenants and prove to the BRA that they can find people who will sign that type of lease. The parking spaces would eventually be converted back to bike parking and similar uses.

Do you think having public and private green space is more important than a place to park your car?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com

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