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A paved paradise: At the Garden, the visit begins when you step out of the car

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 21, 2012 - This summer, as you venture into the Missouri Botanical Garden for the Lantern Festival or the Whitaker Music Festival or simply to be among all those flowers and trees, take a moment to stop and smell the progress in the parking lot.

Yep. The parking lot. 

If it's hot enough, you'll probably smell porous asphalt, porous concrete, maybe even the native plants growing in the rain garden. 

"The visit begins the minute you pull in," says Deborah Frank, vice president of sustainability at the garden. 

The renovation of the parking lot has taken a total of four years, and includes a storm water management system that uses the porous pavement in two small sections of the east lot, rain gardens, grasscrete pavers and two charging stations that can charge up to four electric vehicles. 

"We're trying to show people how you can integrate sustainable operations into all that we're doing," says Frank. 

Some of the lot served as an experiment for the garden, including the parts  that used porous asphalt and concrete. Those sections might need more maintenence than others, which were paved in asphalt using 15 percent of recycled asphalt from the old lot. On the porous sections, you also can't put down salt in the winter because it will tear up the two porous parts of the lot. The porous asphalt was also less expensive than the porous concrete, Frank says, though both allow rainwater to filter through the surface to a reservoir underground that then filters into the soil.

"We invested in it as an educational opportunity as well as a sustainable opportunity," says Frank.

With the renovations, part of the east lot was graded so rainwater would more easily flow to the bioretention area, or rain garden, that runs through the heart of that side of the lot with lush, green, native plants. 

And bordering the bioretention area are rocks that filter out oil and other pollutants before the water hits the plants. 

It's electric

On the parking lot's west side, the electric vehicle charging stations were added in the last few months. 

"We believe this can provide potentially an incentive for people to come visit the garden," Frank says.

The charging stations are free; and Frank says if they were used seven days a week, year-round, they'd cost the garden less than $1,000 in electricity. 

Larry Kinder, CEO of LilyPad EV, says that St. Louis has about 10 EV charging stations, and Kansas City has about 25 (St. Louis' number is a bit higher than Kinder's count according to recargo.com, which takes corporate lots and car sales lots into account.) Kinder says that when businesses and towns provide EV charging stations, they attract businesses and business. 

And in St. Louis, it may take individuals and individual companies to create more charging stations, says Dr. Michael Murphy, a Webster Groves opthamologist with a practice in Swansea, Ill.

In Kansas City, the local power company, KCP&L, partnered with local companies to install 10 new charging stations throughout the region, says Dr. Murphy, who drives a Chevy Volt. St. Louis hasn't had that kind of buy-in yet from Ameren, he says, which has one station on its own lot. 

Other EV charging stations can be found at Moonrise Hotel on the Delmar Loop and one near the Edward Jones Dome downtown. Dr. Murphy plans to install a station at his office. 

Frank has heard concerns from people that adding the charging stations may just encourage people to trade petroleum for electricity, which still produces global warming emissions, but she points to an executive summary from the Union of Concerned Scientists that says that EV's "yield lower global warming emissions than the average new compact gasoline-powered vehicle," and that EVs produce lower emissions than even gasoline hybrids. 

While it may look like just a parking lot, everything happening at the Missouri Botanical Garden is working together toward conservation and education, Frank says. 

The rain gardens remove pollution from storm water. Trees add shade and cool the lot down. And the EV charging stations and the addition of more bike racks in the future encourage people to think not just about where they're going, but about how they're getting there.

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