You want your employees to multitask—now facilities are multitasking as well. Company parking lots are rocking (with concerts and health fairs) and rolling (with locally produced food).
Companies across the country are looking at parking lots in a positive new light—for cultural and social impact—to create opportunities for exercise, fun, and recreation, according to MIT Professor Eran Ben-Joseph, urban planning expert and author of new book, Rethinking a Lot, The Design and Culture of Parking (MIT Press, 2012). He adds that improved maintenance, enhanced safety and security, as well as more attractive landscaping, in parking lots have allowed this metamorphosis to occur.
Some companies are installing walking paths, basketball hoops, and tether ball polls so employees can get outside and exercise at lunch and on breaks.
In Yakima, Washington, the Yakima Neighborhood Health Services (YNHS) recently hosted its annual Festival in the Parking Lot. The fair features a variety of booths from local health and social service providers and is open to employees and the community. Parking lot wellness fairs are a great way to promote health awareness, encourage participation in your wellness program, offer health screenings and nutrition information, or introduce new healthcare plans or changes.
And did you ever think that parking lots could help employees eat healthier?
Think farmer’s markets!
Adjacent to a parking lot at corporate headquarters in Atlanta, Delta Air Lines sponsors a farmers’ market on the second and fourth Tuesdays during the summer and early fall. Introduced this year, the market has been well received by employees, according to Delta spokesman Eric Torbenson.
The market is run by the campus food service provider. Torbenson says that makes it very simple to offer employees convenient, fresh food. “They source the local produce and put it together for us,” he explains. “We’ve gotten great feedback; it’s always busy.”
And cross the country, employers and communities are using parking lots to improve health through access to fresh food. It’s not a new idea, but it’s more popular than ever, according to Gail Hayden.
She directs the California Farmers’ Markets Association (CFMA), whose members are markets in the San Francisco Bay area. Hayden has worked to promote the market business for about 30 years and has seen the movement grow. Today, CFMA markets feed some 22,000 families a week.
Two of the member markets are in the top five in the U.S. One in Mountain View, California serves employees of Facebook, Yahoo, Oracle, and other high-tech companies.
Before she came to CFMA Hayden worked for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She recalls, “We entered into an interagency agreement with the state Department of Transportation that permitted us to use park-and-ride lots and parking lots for farmers’ markets.” The cost of the agreement was $1 per year.
Hayden says markets located under freeway ramps were especially attractive locations because they offered protection from the elements. Today the trend continues with many weekend markets at public and private workplace parking lots in California and throughout the United States.
Ben-Joseph encourages employers to think anew about the potential of parking lots. “Realize that you can use them differently, including during off-peak times.” Start small by placing a basketball hoop in an unused area of the parking lot or inviting a community group to host a cultural event over the weekend.