‘Big Yellow Taxi’
February, 2011Parking vs. Pop Culture is a series of articles dedicated to significant parking references found in pop culture. The winner, either parking or pop culture, will be determined by whether the parking reference ended as a positive or negative experience in the particular pop culture reference. This issue’s parking reference is taken from Joni Mitchell’s environmental anthem “Big Yellow Taxi” from the album “Ladies of the Canyon.”
Written in the U.S. by Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi” stealthily incorporates a playful melody with environmentally and politically charged lyrics. During a visit to Hawaii, Mitchell witnessed the visual conflict between natural magnificence and manmade monstrosity – an event that served as muse to her musical artistry:
“I threw back the curtains [to her hotel room windows] and saw the beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart … this blight on paradise. That’s when I sat down and wrote the song,” said Mitchell in a 1970 interview with journalist Alan McDougall.
And since its inception and recording, “Big Yellow Taxi” with its familiar refrain “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” made its way onto Canadian, Australian and U.S. radio and into the public forum, with several covers – Amy Grant’s and Counting Crows’ being among the most famous – and top 100 chart rankings to boast.
In her song, Mitchell stresses that parking lots are a visible reminder of the lifeless ugliness that usually accompanies urban expansion. She sings about parking destroying paradise, but she probably considered neither the paradise destroyed by the hotel in which she stayed nor the paradise destroyed by the studio in which she recorded the song.
All environmental inconsistencies aside, Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” scores a big one for the pop culture side. Although pop culture wins this round, the fact that parking has made significant strides in sustainability in recent years must be mentioned.
For example, Santa Monica, CA, made an aggressive commitment to becoming more sustainable with its Civic Center Parking Structure, built in 2008, which used recyclable materials and low-emissivity glazing, offered free bicycle storage and reserved electrical vehicle spaces with electrical outlets, and utilized an efficient storm-drain water-treatment system.
Parking organizations also are making major strides in the sustainability movement. The International Parking Institute (IPI), for example, has a Sustainability Committee, which is developing a “Platform on Sustainability.” At the 2011 IPI Conference & Expo May 22-25 in Pittsburgh, its Technology Committee will unveil a “Green Technologies for Parking” presentation.
In addition, the IPI’s industry-wide Parking Matters campaign to advance the parking profession is incorporating sustainability as one of its core messages in public relations outreach to building owners, architects, city officials and urban land planners, among others.
Another “green” initiative that the parking industry has opened up to is the TDM concept (Transportation Demand Management), which applies strategies to reduce travel demand.
Says Brian D. Shaw of Sam Schwartz Engineering and President of the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT): “There is growing recognition by those in the parking profession that they can improve their bottom line by offering options and incentives to avoid single-occupancy travel. Giving discounts for carpools, offering spaces for car-sharing vehicles, or providing bike parking are some of the ways TDM can be offered by parking operators. While counterintuitive at first, offering TDM programs can allow parking operators to charge higher rates by letting them offer their spaces to those most willing to pay.”
As Helen Sullivan, IPI Communications Counsel, says, “It’s not about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot – it’s about integrating parking wisely so that people can get to paradise.”
Even though major strides have been made, the parking industry can do still more to minimize its impact on the environment and overcome negative connotations associated with parking development.
Whether or not you endorse Joni Mitchells’ social/political views, her “Big Yellow Taxi” does meet two of the major criteria for pop music: simple lyrics and a repetitive melody. Before you know it, you’re humming or singing along,
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. [Hey, hey] they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Not surprisingly, we found ourselves singing aloud this parking insult chorus as we tried to point out parking’s initiatives toward sustainability. Pop culture takes the lead, 3-2.
Isaiah Mouw, a CAPP candidate who works for Republic Parking System, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark Botts, who attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, is a graduate student in Regent University’s MFA program. He can be reached at email@example.com.