Daily Herald
The hidden benefits of 'efficiency'
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 10/4/2008 12:04 AM

Efficiency is a good thing. I strive for efficiency. I'm in awe of very efficient people.

But in the past year or two, the efficiency I really value is fuel efficiency.

In what likely will go down in our family history as my most timely purchase ever, I bought a Prius a year and a half ago, during a few short weeks when hybrids were plentiful and gas was relatively inexpensive.

Obviously, that all changed quickly. What never changed was how much I loved not only the car (a welcome change from a 6-year-old gas-guzzling SUV) but how much fun it was to pump 10 gallons of gas into something and see the gauge register "Full."

Then, even better, not returning to the pump for days and days and days - and days. Automotive nirvana.

While my life didn't revolve around watching the miles per gallon rise higher and higher, going from 16 in the old vehicle to 38 and then 40 and closing in on 45 in the new one, it did make me smile - while rationalizing where to spend the extra cash.

It was fun to listen to the questions people asked about the car's lack of noise when it was on, to having to convince people that, no, I didn't have to plug it in at night and yes, I was enjoying driving it.

But perhaps the best thing happened just recently as I shopped at the new Springbrook Prairie Pavilion in Naperville. After a year and a half of driving fuel-efficient vehicles - we now have two - I saw a sign that made me stop and look again.

Yes, the sign posted at the prime, first-row parking spot read "Fuel Efficient Cars only." Moi?

I've gotten used to driving past parking spots with signs. Most empty spaces close to any establishment have handicapped parking signs. Sometimes they are "carryout only" or "police only." At Edward Hospital it is "clergy only" or "pharmacy only." Even at the Westfield Fox Valley mall, "post office parking only."

Most recently there are the "expectant mother parking" spaces. Hmm. Never had those during the 27 months I was pregnant! Walking is good for expectant moms! (OK, it's not so good when she's carrying a toddler - all right, it's a nice gesture.)

So when I drove past the open Springbrook Prairie spot, then stopped and backed up to see if the sign really said what I'd thought I'd read, I paused. I actually paused and thought, "Should I park here?"

After being conditioned to know the close-in parking spots are off-limits, it felt funny taking one, even though I clearly was driving a fuel-efficient vehicle. (I thought to myself, yes, this car was recently on a Top 10 fuel-efficient vehicle list.) If I thought the car would have answered if I had asked it whether it thought I qualified, I would have.

I laughed at my hesitation, looked at the next closest spot miles down the crowded aisle, and pulled in.

One more time, I looked at it. Yup. Fuel-efficient cars only. Interesting idea.

I later looked up the developer of the new shopping area online to find that Bond Cos. is powering the 270,000-square-foot development at 75th Street and Fort Hill Drive with wind-generated energy.

Makes sense, considering one of the center's tenants, Whole Foods, is one of the largest purchasers of wind-generated energy in the country and a future tenant, Pizza Fusion, is a 2-year-old organic pizza place that wants to be the country's most eco-friendly restaurant, "Saving the World, One Pizza at a Time" through such things as using hybrid delivery vehicles.

Springbrook Prairie Pavilion, located next to Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve and its bike and walking paths, was built with many sustainable features. It is the first development in DuPage County to pursue LEED Silver Certification as recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Not only that, it's pleasant to look at, has brought great businesses to town - and of course has superb parking.

• Joni Hirsch Blackman writes about Naperville. E-mail her at jonihb@aol.com.