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Repurposing Parking

Vacant car park with cars needing solar
Underutilized Parking Lot

In the US today, there are an estimated 2 billion parking spaces - that’s 5-8 spaces for every car, and almost 6 spots for every person. The future of parking needs to be different.

Parking benefits only the person who parked and their passenger (when they have one), taking over a substantial amount of space. Parking spaces in the public realm could (and should!) be put to far better use that benefits more people.

Street Parking

In a city like New York, roads occupy 36% of the ground plane. Parked cars are unsightly. They block access to buildings for deliveries. They block views and vistas. There are a number of creative initiatives being considered in NY to rethink streets, parking, and the public domain.

  • Reducing the number of parking spaces, and instead increasing the number of drop-off spaces. Considering that many people are moving away from cars to use rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft, this will be a safe passage for passengers and reduce traffic from double-parking.

  • Outdoor dining, which was popularized during the pandemic. In New York, this has been formalized and will continue in the summer months. This fosters economic growth as restaurants can have more customers. Plus, people get to dine alfresco, so the community benefit is increased.

  • Sealed trash containers. As New York seeks to overcome its problems with trash, rats, and refuse, a solution is to have closed containers to house such trash. These containers would benefit multiple households and would sit in a parking space. Again, multiple benefits for multiple people.

Open-Air Parking

Open-air parking at places such as offices, parks, entertainment centers, and malls offers another opportunity for repurposing. There tend to be peaks and troughs when parking is needed, with peaks during holidays and shopping seasons, for example, and most of the time the occupancy is less than optimal yielding surplus cars paces. Repurposing open-air parking may include:

  • Fresh food and weekend markets. Expand the retail footprint and create an experiential anchor activity. While not a new idea, when done well, it can be a great drawcard. I recall going to the Rosebank Sunday markets as a kid in Johannesburg where there were high quality vendors, artists and entertainment.

  • Temporary sheds or containers, can expand the use of these spaces, which can be rented out. Such uses might include distribution hubs for logistics, indoor farming (e.g., mushrooms that thrive in dark spaces), self-storage, and more.

  • Beautify through public art. Activities that require flat surfaces, such as driving schools, skate parks, running tracks, learn-to-cycle tracks for kids, or ball sports, could also use the spaces on a temporary or more permanent basis. make it a hard surface playground, such as painting hopscotch graphics or activities for kids to enjoy. This is a fantastic way to benefit the community once you remove cars from the equation.

If you are building a new carpark, consider future uses. Think about having adequate head height to enable the space to be enclosed in the future, ventilation, and as much as possible - flat slabs.

Rooftop Parking

Some ways to repurpose rooftops for alternative income generation include:

  • Solar panels. This is an opportunity for sustainable, green power generation, supporting E.S.G. and energy reduction goal. Plus, surplus power can (in some instances) be sold back to the grid, generating alternative income.

  • Drone deliveries are already being trialed around the world, including Walmart in Fort Worth Texas. As it is a clear space, somewhat unobstructed and can be sectioned off from people for safety, it’s an opportunity to create drone delivery landing and distribution locations.

  • Flying taxis. As flying taxis are beginning to become a reality, they will need places from which to take off and land. REEF has already entered into a partnership with Archer Aviation to create an ecosystem of UAM landing and takeoff sites.

Of course, there are barriers to adoption - there always is when a change is proposed. In many places, the building code has not necessarily kept up with the trend towards lower coronership rates, and there is are mandate for creating more parking spaces for developments. Removing car spaces can be perceived by some car-owners as removing an amenity that they are entitled to, which can also be met with resistance.To balance this concern, if a city/private development is to ‘take something away’ from a neighborhood, it needs to give something back. That means demonstrating the benefit asap - and - providing a better alternative to private car ownership via public transport.


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