To find one of the best places to relax in Berlin, take the elevator from the Neukölln Arcaden shopping center to the parking lot on the fifth floor. Then all you need to do is quickly climb the ramp to the top floor of the garage to reach your destination: a hybrid urban nightclub / garden where stylish young folks sip Club Mate, munch on a rotating menu of street food, and dance the night away. sun over the city.
Camping in reclaimed parking lots isn’t just for German hipsters and thirsty backpackers. With the growing popularity of carsharing services and the heralded arrival of autonomous vehicles, cities around the world are reinventing their parking lots that will soon be irrelevant. After a century of urban planning favoring the comfort of the car, neighborhoods of cities that were once auto-forward have been redesigned for the happiness of the inhabitants.
Last month, San Francisco proposed a plan to redevelop the 732-space garage at its Moscone Convention Center into affordable housing and hotel rooms. In 2015, Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Converted its 11,000 square foot parking lot at its northern campus into a student startup incubator aptly named “The Garage”. Then there’s Square Roots, an urban agriculture accelerator co-founded by Kimbal Musk (yes, Elon’s brother) that has set up ten shipping container gardens in a Brooklyn parking lot and now produces up to 500 pounds of produce. fee per week.
Innovative ideas like these hold the promise of respite for our increasingly spatial cities. Cars are meant to be driven, but on average they spend 95% of their days at rest. In response, big box parking lots, multi-level garages, and on-street parking have become hallmarks of North American cities, robbing our urban centers of valuable development space. An estimated 13% of Los Angeles is reserved for parking, while Houston has 30 parking spaces per capita.
As people continue to flow into urban centers and rental prices skyrocket in many cities, real estate developers, city planners and policymakers are increasingly turning to autonomous vehicles as a source of relief. from space. Shared and autonomous vehicles rarely need to park during the day – once you’re done shopping for the weekend, your elderly neighbor is ready to be transported to her eye appointment. And when demand for these cars declines in the wee hours of the morning, they can head to nearby suburbs where space is more plentiful and affordable. In a 2015 report, the OECD estimated that a shared autonomous fleet could remove 90 percent of cars of our city centers. With numbers like that, we could finally clear heaven and demolish the parking lot.
Driverless cars will hit the streets of California in the form of shared taxis from April 2018 thanks to the regulations voted last month. But despite the bold predictions of many, like think tank RethinkX, which predicts 95 percent of our driving will be in self-driving cars by 2030 – it will likely be a gradual process until the technology is sufficiently adopted to reach market saturation. The recent deadly pedestrians caused by an autonomous vehicle has put the brakes on Elon Musk’s claim that any delay in adopting the technology means that we are effectively “killing people”, and we do not yet have clear data on their security. In addition, there is the labyrinthine web of policies to consider. City bylaws and building codes take time to adapt to new technology, and even a pedestrian-friendly city like Vancouver has rules in place that require at least two parking spaces for each townhouse (plus a parking for visitors). Even if we all embrace autonomous transit options tomorrow, it could take a decade to see a significant percentage of our parking lots destroyed.
Given these hurdles, forward-thinking designers and architects choose to build transitional spaces, facilities that can accommodate cars today, and then easily reconfigured as parking demand declines. Design firm Gensler is renowned for its convertible retail spaces like the new 84.51 ° Center in downtown Cincinnati, whose three parking levels are designed to easily convert into offices as needed. And in Los Angeles, AvalonBay Communities Inc. has planned a 475-unit apartment complex and a shopping mall whose ground floor can be remodeled to accommodate a constant flow of self-driving cars doing pickup and drop-off. The complex’s two levels of underground parking will also be built with higher than normal ceilings and non-sloped floors, which will allow them to be converted into recreational facilities like a gym or theater. “The opportunity is not only to create new places that welcome autonomous cars”, writing Gensler, “but to reshape our existing towns and cities into the kind of vibrant, feature-rich places we all appreciate.”
Whether in 2022 or 2052, when self-driving cars take over, they will not only disrupt the urban planning codes of our cities, they will radically change our lifestyles. The Boston Consulting Group believes that autonomous and shared vehicles will give Americans a 30 billion hours of overtime per year. Instead of wasting time driving, sitting in traffic, or looking for parking spaces, we could use our free commute time to work, spend time with our families, or just enjoy our urban surroundings.
It might sound like a utopian vision, but according to Antonio Loro, a Vancouver-based planner and consultant who works with city agencies to plan for autonomous vehicles, it could easily turn into a dystopia if we simply replicate our existing driving culture. Loro stresses that we need to be very clear about the forms of shared autonomous vehicles in which we invest and design. “Some people think of taxis that primarily serve individual passengers, while others think of shared taxis that move a handful of passengers at a time,” says Loro. “Fewer people think of some kind of shared vehicle that moves a lot of passengers simultaneously. I like to call it a “bus”.
The prospect of self-driving vehicles is alluring, but if our goal is to create vibrant cities, we can’t assume that giving the wealthy their own private AI drivers will spur a massive, human-centric overhaul of our urban infrastructure – and maybe we don’t. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel in the meantime. “There are already alternatives to owning a private car, such as using public transport, walking, cycling,” notes Loro. “The more people opt for more shared vehicles, the more the city will actually see the benefits that excite people, like smoother traffic and less space swallowed up by roads and parking… We don’t have to wait for robot taxis or shared taxis to prioritize urban space.