Skip to main content

Parking to Paradise: Retrofitting a Parking Lot to Increase Sustainability

Guest blogger: Reyna Matties 


Urbanization displaces and degrades ecosystems that are critical for humans, animals, and plants. Sustainable urban development has become a priority in the challenge to re-design our ageing infrastructure. Working to coexist peacefully with the surrounding environment will increase sustainability. As a graduate student of Biology at McMaster University, I am studying the applied ecology and hydrology of a parking lot system (Lot M). Ancaster Creek, a rare cold-water ecosystem, runs along Lot M and is part of an essential wildlife corridor for native species such as salmon, turtle, and deer. Together with Dr. Susan Dudley, I am working to retrofit the stormwater management of the system to minimize the impact of contaminants and runoff into the creek.

One method of achieving this goal is through increasing and restoring the land next to the creek. This is called a riparian buffer, which protects the system by providing habitat for animals, increasing stormwater infiltration, and allowing plants and soil to break down and store contaminants.

Urban riparian buffers risk degradation from surrounding development. Ancaster Creek runs 34km from Hamilton's escarpment in the south, towards Lake Ontario in the north. In 1968, when McMaster University created Lot M, riparian buffer importance was not yet fully understood. The parking lot design left a small 10 metre buffer and prioritized a fast removal of stormwater. Warm, contaminated water flowed directly into the creek. Advocacy and partnerships have created awareness and an opportunity for restoration and retrofitting. Partial mitigation of parking lot effects on Ancaster Creek has begun in 2014. McMaster widened the creek's riparian buffer to 30m. Native species were planted, and turtle habitat was created.


Scenes from Lot M
Follow this link for more images from Lot M rehabilitation

Green Infrastructure works to build with nature in urban environments. Examples include a rain garden, riparian buffer, green roof, or bioswale. Stormwater quality and quantity can be improved at Lot M by implementing these designs . I am researching three hydrology and ecology related questions to guide my design and construction of a trial bioswale:

  • How does soil moisture and salinity (road salt) vary on the new riparian buffer? 
  • How does the buffer soil salinity impact plant growth on the buffer? 
  • How does runoff vary over the parking lot area? 

The public nature of the parking lot provides the opportunity for me to promote ecosystem restoration and sustainability. I do educational hikes, design interpretive signage, and provide content to courses. My research will advance restoration science in an urban context. McMaster University can use the research findings for adaptive management and future retrofits to Lot M.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Where did the water go? Art action in Lot M Parking

West Campus Eco-Art Project  A walking activity and site activation on McMaster’s West Campus.  West Campus Eco-Art Project is a project that incorporates creative walking activities and an artistic site activation connected with the West Campus Redesign Initiative at McMaster University. The initiative provides opportunities for connecting with nature through an on-line informational video, walking excursions and creative activities that deepen knowledge and experience with place in all its complexities (social history, citizen science, ecology and diversity).  Focusing on the Coldwater creek valley on McMaster’s West Campus, participants will learn about the history and unique features of the area and will be invited to then engage with the site through observation, sketching and stencil-making. Stencils will be used to paint text and image on the parking lot asphalt to delineate a blue line that marks an historic water route.  The project is supported by the McMaster Museum of Art (

McMaster's Parking Problem: Next Level

I'm sharing a recent article published in the Dundas Star News about McMaster's plan to build a - get this - $17-million dollar parking structure. Seventeen million. Yes, $17,000,000.00 That's a lot of money to provide temporary shelter for vehicles of people who choose to drive to campus. We will be following this closely. Here's the article.  Cootes Drive six-storey McMaster University parking garage under review Variances or amendment to zoning bylaw expected to permit parking structure Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News, Friday, March 5, 2021 Zoning bylaw variances, or amendments, could be required for a planned six-storey, 567-space McMaster University parking garage west of Cootes Drive, and north of Thorndale Crescent. University spokesperson Michelle Donavon said the $17-million structure on parking lot K at Westaway Road will help ongoing efforts to re-naturalize parts of the west campus, by moving some surface parking into the structure. “These plans will increa

Binkley's Pond, gone for parking

Jacob Binkley (1806-67), great grandson of Marx [Binkley], built the handsome stone house that still stands at 54 Sanders Blvd at the head of a ravine. The house was completed in 1847 and named Lakelet Vale, as it had a little spring-fed lake at the rear. Binkley's Pond, as it was known, was used for skating, fishing, and good times. It is now the Zone 6 parking lot at McMaster University on the west side of Cootes Drive. Loreen Jerome, The Way We Were "The House that Jacob Built" Ainslie Wood/Westdale Community Association of Resident Homeowners Inc. (AWWCA) http://www.awwca.ca/articles/ Skater's on Binkley's Pond circa 1917, now a McMaster parking lot