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I returned to my car in the mall parking lot and braced myself for a burst of hot air.

The blacktop beneath the vehicle was radiating enough heat back into the air to roast vegetables and/or incinerate Finland — all for want of a tree.

Once upon a time, cities developed zoning formulas to determine the number of parking spaces needed – typically, between six and 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space.

These sprawling asphalt jungles are designed to accommodate two or three days of maximum use per year (perhaps, the day after Thanksgiving.)

In his book, “Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking,“ author Eran Ben-Joseph estimates that there are 500 million surface-lot parking spaces in the U.S., covering more than 3,590 square miles. That’s a bit larger than the island of Puerto Rico.

Most of them are suffer from poor design and poor lighting. Yet parking lots don’t have to be ugly: a canopy of trees is an easy way to improve their appearance.

Ben-Joseph estimates that planting enough trees to shade 50 percent of the surface-lot area in the U.S. would remove 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere and return 822,000 tons of oxygen. In addition, those trees would mitigate two billion cubic meters of storm-water runoff.

It might not be the cheapest way to build a parking lot , but it would be the most aesthetic. Our environment would benefit from fewer cost-cutting developers.

Best of all – my car would stay cooler.