One of the ugliest sights of American suburbia is the sea of concrete which provides parking for all of the merry patrons coming to shop. Adding insult to injury, the parking lots are a gigantic a monument to poor use of space.

The trend of moving more storefronts to the curb and putting the parking lots in the back and out of view is a step in the right direction. At least with that, the world is a more aesthetically pleasing place. However, it does nothing for the wasted space. Parking garages are an expensive and unattractive option in suburbia. Hence, the massive parking lots continue to flourish. If you nedd a proof – visit Hanover-Sealcoating.com.

Every once in a while, this space is put to good use. Farmers Markets, sidewalk and parking lot sales for the department stores and fireworks stands in the weeks leading up to Independence Day are a handful of temporary parking lot tenants who blanket the landscape at various parts of the year. However the tables and tents which keep them afloat only last for so long. The sea of parking wins. At least for now.

In parts of the country, we are starting to see better use of these parking lots which have a more year round benefit. The surprising supporter of parking lot beautification has been none other than Wisconsin-based department store Kohls. They have started by setting up year round community gardens, greenhouses, and farmers markets to get locally grown food into the hands of people looking for it quicker and more conveniently than ever before.

In Muskego, Wisconsin, the Muskego Patch tells us about Stein’s Garden Centers and how they plan to transform the Kohls parking lot into something much more exciting:

Stein’s Garden Centers will be erecting a “Just Plants” greenhouse and display area using conservatory ladders, taking up nearly 2,000 square feet of space from April 25 to July 8.  The main greenhouse will be 24’x40′ with accompanying display space, which will be fenced in. The first seasonal flower mart was launched last year at 76th and Good Hope Road, adjacent to a Pick ‘n Save. Additional locations are being proposed in Cedarburg, Cudahy, Waukesha, Oak Creek and Pewaukee.

Naturally, there’s more than meets the eye to this development.

Even having a greenhouse by itself would be an improvement, but the convenience factor (they’re going to be open from 8am – 8pm Monday through Saturday with slightly shorter hours on Sunday) means that there’s no more waiting for Tuesday mornings or stuffing the already busy weekend commute with an out of the way trip to the Farmer’s market. Families who are constantly torn in a million directions as it is, and its hard to rationalize another trip with the kids in the car when you need to go to Walmart anyways. But by having local, available, fresh fruits and veggies, not only do we make the parking lots look better, but you serve a need in the community as well.

So what do people think about these new developments? A thread from the Sioux Falls “Moms like Me” forums respond to the notion of the temporary farmers market set up by Sioux Empire Farmer’s Market at the Sioux Falls Kohls.

Responses to the Farmers Market at Kohls

Responses by consumers to the Farmers Market at Kohls

Now you can see that this example isn’t as robust as what is happening in Wisconsin, at least not yet. However it is a great start, and people are obviously very excited to see it happen.

There are also economic impacts of this. The Muskego experiment by itself will require 12-15 people to staff it and keep it running. You also send your spending cash to the local growing establishment, instead of where ever on earth those eggplants from Walmart come from anyways.

If this trend continues, it could be coming to a community near you. What questions would you have for an establishment wanting to establish a parking lot greenhouse in your community? What would you ask of them? What kind of permits would be appropriate?

Upper-right parking lot photo by Thomas Rizzo on Flickr.