Looking for a parking spot? Cities are finding new solutions in smart, green designs.

Parking is trending as a topic. Technology is one reason why – offering solutions from connected ride-sharing to smart apps that assist motorists in finding places to park. Aesthetics and sustainability are other reasons: cars spend 95% of their time doing nothing. So why does so much urban space have to be devoted to them and why through such unattractive options?

Visionary urban architects and designers are rethinking the functions, locations, and purposes of parking to save precious space in urban centers and to ease drivers’ frustrations. They also aim to change the urban look of lots and garages. URBAN HUB checks out the solutions emerging for the future.

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Urban city parking

Parking lots are grim eyesores. Expensive to build,  they notoriously break up otherwise striking architecture or pretty streets. They are detrimental to the urban environment because they form heat islands. Cars parked in lots or on the street pollute runoff water with oil and anti-freeze. And, quite simply, they take up a lot of space.

Urban parking powerfully affects urban mobility and land use. This is where environmental impact, urban planning, architectural design, private enterprise, and public space can come together to make change. Urban innovators are tired of accepting parking as a necessary evil and are promoting solutions to mitigate the negative impact that parking has on cities.

Leave the car at home – parking problem solved

The best way to fix the urban parking problem is to eliminate demand. The increasing trend towards urbanization helps. More people living in city centers means fewer commuters. Cities can encourage non-urban dwellers to ditch cars by eliminating free on-street parking. Public transit hubs can be brought closer to home with solutions like feeder points  and accelerated walkways .

Accessible public transmit, bike and car share, shared mobility : many options increasingly make people think twice before looking for their car keys. Ride-sharing or carpooling is also trending. When Uber began a ride-sharing option in San Francisco, they were astounded to see that nearly 50% of all Uber rides in the city were pooled.

In the future, fully-automated vehicles may be the solution that tips the balance. Studies suggest a single self-driving car could replace up to twelve cars. When a “robo-car” isn’t in demand, it simply drives off to a remote parking garage. 

Many are open to a message that cars don’t have to come first. Take Seoul, Korea. When the city tore down a three-mile elevated highway that cut through the center, critics said cars would back up the side streets. Instead, car use simply dropped, and residents are praising the incredibly green corridor now used as recreational and park land .

Convertible buildings can optimize parking in urban settings.

Get smart about parking

But I love my car! We all know someone who can’t part from his or her car, but even the most die-hard automotive fans hate looking for a parking spot. In fact, 30 to 60 percent of the cars driving around a downtown are just circling for an open space, increasing levels of harmful emissions. A smarter, faster solution could help drivers and urban dwellers.

Smart technology can bring optimized parking downtown. A system of sensors that alerts drivers where the next free space is has already been successfully tested in parking garages. Now, trials on open streets are underway. In San Francisco, CA, 6,000 sensors have been embedded in the asphalt and operate in conjunction with an app and GPS.

Another solution? At a high-tech garage in West Hollywood, CA, as soon as drivers have reached the entrance, they just get out and send the car off to park itself. With nobody needing to get in or out of a car once it’s parked, cars are tucked in as closely as Tetris bricks. The floor space is optimally utilized and filled, and potentially smaller garages can be built.

 

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Luxury, high-rise parking. The Porsche Design building lets you drive up to and park right at your front door, no matter if you are on the ground floor or the 27th floor.

It’s more than just a parking lot

While some complain that they can never find a parking spot, others point out we surrender a lot of space to parking lots: one U.S.-based study claims there are eight parking spots for every car. With all that space devoted solely to inactive cars, cities are realizing it’s time to repurpose the parking lot and garage.

Opening parking lots and garages to various activities can transform them into public spaces that change and evolve with the community. Underused lots can host farmers’ markets, provide space for street-hockey games, and serve as go-to points for charity services. They can feature pop-up exhibitions and theater shows or be urban party locations.

Some developers are actively embracing studies that claim auto ownership is on the decline and are designing buildings that are convertible. A high-rise is being completed in Los Angeles with two floors currently designated for parking. However, the floors are level rather than inclined as is common in many garages, so one day they can be converted to shops or a gym.

Can you find the parking lot? Camouflaged “dune” parking.

Green parking

Another solution, in addition to multi-purpose parking lots, is to simply build better garages – ones that generate rather than drain resources. Planners can greenify parking lots to create shade or embrace solar-powered garages and solar canopies over lots. Using porous asphalt can reduce street flooding and help control polluted run-off.

Architects are also finding that parking lots don’t have to drag down design. Inspired by the coastal landscape, an underground parking garage in Katwijk, Holland, is a work of art rather than an eyesore. Its undulating forms mimic the dunes and it is also designed to provided defenses against flooding. Now that’s beautiful multi-purposing!

Parking needs to keep up with the times and be part of the change. As electric cars take to the streets, lots can do more do support this environmentally-friendly technology. Trials are currently underway in London of a technology that allows E-cars to be charged through a transmitter pad embedded in a parking lot. 

Chicago’s Greenway Self-Park garage ticks all the boxes: a green roof, electric car plug-in stations, and over a dozen wind turbines attached to the external structure for energy-efficient powering and cool design elements.

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Greenway Self-Park, Chicago raises the bar for urban parking

Finding a parking spot in the future

While for many, even thinking about parking is a headache, wireless technology designers, developers, and city planners are eagerly putting their heads together. They’re working to innovate the next urban parking lot to bring more than just better parking to you.

Clearly, urban parking is not to be written off yet. How we think about it – and plan for it – greatly affects the urban quality of life for us all. New ideas are helping to transform the future of parking and thereby the future of our cities.

Image Credits:

The Mod, taken from latimes.com

Greenway Self Park, taken from latimes.com, photo by John Picken 

Dune Parking, taken from deezen.com, photo by Luuk Kramer

 

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