Joni Mitchell wrote the line “They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.” How much of our lives are defined by parking. Call it a tangible ramification of the invention of the wheel or perhaps an odd cultural addiction to smooth hard surfaces. For global retail it is the apron, in whatever form it takes. Visit a new urban shopping mall in Tokyo: the model is a conceptual Ferris wheel, an elevated spinning parking lot where each car has its own compartment. Drive your car into the cube, it gets lifted and stored away in the sky. In Seoul, many shopping malls have cameras focused on each space and a software package that reads license plate numbers; through an interactive screen in an elevator bank or a phone app, you are guided you through a dimly-lit maze to your vehicle. For all the innovation across the world, parking is still mostly flat asphalt and concrete, accessorized with a little paint.
Parking lots are the historic starting and ending point for retail. They are often barren and windswept, especially on a winter weekday inside a garage at Mall of America. They are sometimes scary; who ever loved a parking lot? No one ambles; everyone rushes to unlock their cars. More accidents happen in parking lots than on the highway. They are laid out by engineering teams trying to fit in as many spaces as they can. Outside of Seoul and Tokyo, parking lots have not conceptually changed since the invention of automobiles. Until now. [Read more…]