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A parking lot is one of those necessities of life most of us would prefer to forget when we're not in need of one.

But when the partners at PLANT Architect Inc. noticed buildings coming down at a corner near their downtown Toronto office, only to be replaced by a square of pavement for cars, they had an idea: Why not make a parking lot something green?

They envisioned a mini-park with trees for shade, native plants to help absorb and conserve rainwater, permeable low-heat paving and subtle, solar-powered lights - plus lots of space for cars, especially small ones.

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Chris Pommer, who is a partner in the award-winning firm, along with his wife, Lisa Rapoport, and Mary Tremain, says PLANT's idea could potentially transform scores of featureless rectangles of street-level parking that are part of the City of Toronto's "Green P" system.

If even 5 per cent of annual parking revenues were diverted for such a project, $1-million to $2-million would be available for the overhaul, Mr. Pommer estimates.

In addition to shade trees, the proposal includes some novel items, such as "green walls."

These structures, rather like trellises, would support a variety of plants chosen for light and soil conditions.

Besides making the lot more attractive, they would provide privacy for neighbours while allowing sufficient transparency for security.

Two other features would allow the lots to be removed from the city's power and storm-water grids. Water tanks would capture rainwater and send it to water planters, while lampposts with down-facing heads (reducing light emitted upward) would be solar-powered.

New styles of porous asphalt paving, mixed with tougher materials - such as recycled glass - would reduce the waves of heat that typically bounce off these lots.

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Mr. Pommer also suggests that some lots - those that parallel the subway line north of Bloor, for instance - could be closed on Sundays and made available for other uses, such as skateboarding, or turned into markets.

"Can you imagine," he asks, "150 parking lots around the city that get changed into things that don't look like parking lots? What an impact that would have."

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