A Water-friendly… Mall?

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MAPLEWOOD, MN– In a project that’s the first of its kind, Maplewood Mall has retrofitted its parking lot with top-knotch stomwater infrastructure. Although construction projects and improvements on infrastructure are common every construction season, this one holds special significance. Here in Maplewood, the local watershed district, Ramsey-Washington Watershed, and Simon Property Group (Simon Malls) formed a unique partnership. Through what may seem like vastly different spheres of society, the watershed district and Simon Malls, one of the largest land owners in the US, planned and implemented a groundbreaking parking lot innovation. Concerning far more than parking spaces, the new parking lot is designed for stormwater runoff, to keep water where it lands instead of it running off the concrete jungle’s paved surfaces to pick up all sorts of trash and pollution (everything that drips and falls out of cars, accidentally or intentionally). The end result is that the Mississippi River receives water from this area not from the surges of stormwater pipes, but from gradual, stable, and clean groundwater flow. So how did they do it?

Although discussions and planning started in 2008, the retrofit wasn’t completed until 2012. Funded through the Minnesota Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment and other funding sources, the desert-like parking lot gradually transformed into an urban habitat for both cars and plants to share. The construction included:

  • 55 rainwater gardens
  • 6,733 permeable pavers
  • 375 trees planted in tree trenches
  • A 5,700 gallon cistern that catches rooftop runoff

…all accumulating into 27 MILLION gallons every year intercepted from the parking lot! It may seem like a lofty number, but think about it this way. When a 1″ rain event falls on an area of 1 square mile, that’s 17.38 million gallons of water. If the surface it falls on is impermeable it will both run off the surface to potentially flood a nearby river, and will pick up anything in its path. Because brake dust, engine oil, garbage, and many other things find their way into the street, it’s the water that washes it “away”. You can calculate how much water runs off of your roof or driveway with a handy stormwater calculator such as this or this.

Now that the project is complete and it’s had a few years to let the plants grow, something exquisite occurs at the mall every day. Shoppers just going about everyday life, running errands, or picking up gifts for loved ones, are greeted with not just signs and advertisements, but a sliver of nature. In a world where the landscape itself caters to stress, traffic jams, and a hurried lifestyle, stopping to smell the roses (sorry for the cliche, but literally in this sense) is unrealistic or even considered silly. Stepping out of the pattern of car-store-car walking might even look deranged or a bit odd, but what if the landscape itself caters to it? What if the release of trees and wild things bring the National Park into the city? What if project such as these are real life success stories that echo I Heart Huckabees? Well, comedy movies aside, the Maplewood Mall parking lot retrofit was a major step towards making green infrastructure part of our everyday lives, where culture and habitat co-exist in health rather than in conflict and dominance. With it’s continued success, Simon Property Group and other major property owners have a tangible example of how to gradually go green.

Check out other links and resources on the project here:

Maplewood Mall retrofit stages

Maplewood Mall retrofit in the news




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