No Parking

Jun 03 2011

1111 Lincoln Road, Miami, Florida. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Are there creative architectural solutions to our downtown parking problems?

I probably don’t have to tell you this, but public parking is a major problem downtown. For people like myself, who live and work beyond the downtown, it’s often difficult to find a place to park when trying to go for lunch, run errands, or even go shopping on weekends and holidays.

Many cities are now coping with the problems caused by car-oriented planning and infrastructure, and some of them are coping well. There’s a lot we can do to make parking more convenient and aesthetically pleasing.

City hall tries its best to encourage new buildings to include sufficient parking to help alleviate some of the congestion in the downtown. They have a formula for determining the amount of parking required for new buildings: one space for every 75 square meters of gross floor area. Also, City Hall has recently moved to rezone the recently up-for-sale Atlantic Place Parking Garage into a new “parking only” zone. This will protect this prime parking stock from a buyer who may wish to convert the garage into something else.

While it’s great that the city wants to encourage new parking spaces, it is difficult to include interior parking in new buildings downtown. The logistics of making room for cars is difficult: developers and their designers often struggle to squeeze ample parking into buildings, whose small downtown footprints might not allow enough room for turning radii, ramps, wheelchair accessible spots near entrances, and easy street access. And for many urban citizens, parking spaces may be seen as undesirable–otherwise empty space that could be used for something else.

There are also questions about the future of transportation that we must ask: what happens if cars become obsolete? Can we adapt and re-use the structures we have built for parking? Does the addition of more parking actually inhibit the growth of better quality public transit?

But unless something revolutionizes transportation in our city in the immediate future, it looks like we are stuck with the problem of where to park all of those cars. The best we might hope for is that in the meantime we can make parking structures that actually add value to our environment. Can we become good at hiding our cars?

Cities like New York and Tokyo build automatic parking machines—parking machines that robotically sort and stack cars. They require small areas to build on, and can make large numbers of cars disappear into the streetscape. It’s an aesthetically pleasing solution that also appeals to our childhood fascination with robots. (See last issue.)

It’s a neat idea, but it may not be appropriate for St. John’s. Robots that sort and stack cars are certainly not cheap, and building costs escalate for locations that are far from manufacturers. As well, there’s the logistical problem of traffic flow: queuing cars waiting to park, and also finding a location that will ensure profitability.

Without the help of robots, some designers have re-imagined the design of the parking garage to obscure the parking garage’s usual tedious mass. Swiss Architects Herzog and DeMeuron’s new parking garage in Miami called 1111 Lincoln Road is a stand-out example of this. This parking garage sits in the context of an art deco-heavy Miami street. Its massive concrete structure with sharp angles and open edges fit this context. Here, parking is a personal journey, where ramps frame views of the city, and contemplative spaces connect the driver with the ceremonial act of parking. The garage also houses galleries, high end retail, and cafés at street level. This artful approach to designing parking spaces could no doubt be used here. The only obvious drawback here is a potentially high cost.

More parking downtown would allow for more people to enjoy shopping, restaurants, and nightlife, which is a good thing. And while the problem of where to find more parking spaces is a difficult one, some places have found creative solutions to the problem of parking that actually contribute positively to the experience of a city. There’s no reason why St. John’s can’t do the same.

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6 responses so far

  1. What you wrote actually makes a lot of sense. The one factor however that would stop something like the garage in that picture getting built in DT St. John’s would be HEIGHT. As much as some people would want everyone of us to get rid of our cars and use public transportation or walk or bike, living in St. John’s that is just not possible when you have 75%+ of the population of St. John’s living outside the DT area. As for public transportation……….like you said something drastic needs to be done to the Metrobus system in this city.

  2. Hiding our parking garages would be an improvement, but I think it’s avoiding the main question: Why does St. John’s require developers to create a certain number of parking spots at all?

    Downtown is limited to the 3.5 main roads, so it’s not as if an influx of cars will have new room in which to move.

    We should abolish parking minimums and create parking maximums. If we want better public transportation, some action has to be taken to foster demand. I don’t think improving the service will suddenly send people to the bus stops — unless we get a streetcar again :)

    Transit-oriented cities have gotten rid of parking minimums decades ago:
    http://www.itdp.org/documents/ITDP_US_Parking_Report.pdf

  3. In response to your article “No Parking” in your June issue, I find it disturbing that only downtown St John’s is seen as having to find solutions to fix the parking problem. What about if we consider what some other large cities and suburbs do: offer “park and ride” services. In this way, areas outside of downtown can offer existing, large parking lots for people to park their cars and then take direct shuttle service downtown. Why couldn’t Mount Pearl, Paradise, CBS and other communities (even other parts of St. John’s) provide parking, and then a regional transportation system could offer rapid transportation during peak hours? This could take a great deal of the pressure off downtown – or other areas like Confederation Building or hospitals, for that matter. Why does downtown have to lose more green space when other areas could make better use of existing parking?

  4. I like some of the creative designs. Parking garages are a challenge to make attractive as well as functional.

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