In recent months we’ve talked a lot about parking issues downtown – whether to keep your lots and garages, how to keep and maintain them, whether to lower parking minimums. I assure you our rants about parking lots and garages are well-founded. If you need to be reminded, there are about 500 million parking spaces throughout the country occupying about 3,590 square miles, as last reported in 2012. Furthermore, in some cities in the U.S., parking lots cover more than 30 percent of the local land area, according to Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of urban planning at M.I.T. who wrote “ReThinking A Lot.” Often, these parking lots downtown are owned and/ or managed by municipalities which means they are in fact public land that should be enjoyed by the public.
|Pike Place MarketFront (After)|
Many cities have become privy to this fact and are increasingly taking a more human-centric approach toward parking spaces and lots and are turning them into the rightful public spaces that they should be. Many of these strategies often start with smaller, guerrilla tactics such as weekly farmers markets in parking lots, or seasonal cultural events, before getting buy-in from local communities to structurally transform the lots into public plazas/ squares, and even light manufacturing spaces (as in the case of Seattle’s latest Pike Place MarketFront). Architects have also increasingly been introducing green design to parking lots for decades now to improve the pedestrian environment downtown. They are incorporating more flora and fauna, and natural permeable paving materials that mitigate storm water runoff and urban heat island effects common in downtowns with high density.
Parklets are another common strategy being employed in major cities to reclaim parking spots for conversion into public spaces. This strategy, while helpful in building support among local businesses and residents to lower parking supply in downtowns, only manages to typically reclaim one or two parking spaces for a limited amount of time. When we start to think bigger, we are able to convert entire parking lots into larger public spaces such as public plazas and parks and we would be reclaiming on average 50-100 parking spaces in one fell swoop.
Here are some examples of parking lots in downtown areas that have been strategically transformed into public spaces. Each case shows that there are incredible social and economic benefits to be reaped from reclaiming parking spaces.
Fort Worth, TX– Sundance Square [Completed in 2013]
|Sundance Square (Before – 2007) PC: GoogleMaps|
|Sundance Square (After – 2016) PC: GoogleMaps|
|Joseph Venne Public Plaza (Before) PC: GoogleMaps|
|Joseph Venne Public Plaza (After) PC: Steve Montpetit|
|Pike Place MarketFront (After) PC: GoogleMaps|
|Pacific Plaza Park (After)|
Finally, still in progress, is the Pacific Plaza Park in downtown Dallas. In March this year, Dallas City Council approved a development agreement to build the Pacific Plaza Park. The public space has been made possible through a partnership between the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department, the Trust for Public Land and local non-profit Parks for Downtown Dallas. The park will site on the former site of a parking lot in downtown Dallas and will become the city’s newest destination, bringing benefits to workers downtown seeking outdoor places to enjoy lunch, and also to nearby businesses by bringing in greater foot traffic.
|Pacific Plaza Park (Before)|