viernes, 22 de junio de 2012

Adaptive urbanism. Rethinking parking

When thinking about how much urban surface on average takes parking space reliable statistics are hard to find, but anyone can agree that predominant urbanism models devote a large portion of available urban space for single and inconstant use of parking. As a general figure, in some extreme examples, around a third of urban surface is occupied by areas dedicated to parking. This trend, however, can vary widely depending upon the type of city but we can count this figure as a reference for understanding the high opportunity cost in the occupation of scarce urban space devoted to surface parking. No need to go to the most extreme cases to understand that the availability of parking space has been a priority in the spatial organization of the city, becoming almost like a kind of law and a constant demand to the authorities. Does it make sense how we have conceived and designed parking policies?

A proper pricing policy is an obvious tool that authorities have at their disposal to organize urban mobility, but lack of courage and the collective subconscious idea about free free parking as a civil right act is a serious disincentive to create another way of understanding urban mobility and parking policies. But in addition to pricing policies, smart regulation and a deep improvement in the design of these spaces (European cities getting smarter about parking policy) are needed for a comprehensive policy. Christopher Mims explained in Six reasons free parking is the dumbest thing you didn't know you were subsidizing  some reasons why the traditional method of managing parking supply policies are a nonsense we are subsidizing (nothing is free, heat island effect, occupying valuable land space, etc.).
Below are some illustrative examples and ends of space may occupy these areas both in the center and the suburbs of some of the most prototypical cities:




Parking lots in suburban malls epitomise why we really need to rethink parking in a clever way. They have been traditionally designed to accommodate the maximum number of clients in their peak times  (which means that most of the time are under-utilized). But this mono-functional zoning has been applied in car parks around the corporate headquarters of large companies outside of cities or of industrial and technology parks: And, of course, every sidewalk of street roads must dedicate space for parking. Hence, parking is one of the most significant features of our cities and Eran Ben-Joseph has published a very well detailed superb analysis of the impact of this reality and the transformative potential from urban design to provide them with alternative uses and less social and environmental impact. Rethinking a lot. The design and culture of parking is a proposal to turn this culture into a new way of thinking cities and public spaces beyond car predominance and low quality design derived from car culture dependency.

The question is whether these spaces can be designed to be attractive and with some kind of aesthetic value, if you can include environmental considerations in its design and whether they can support other alternative uses. Given that parking lots occupy so much space and have many implications in our perception of quality of space in the city, despite we pay so little attention to parking space (in fact, we only "see" them in the 5 % of time on average than our cars are actually running), we need to think beyond zoning, ratios and minimum design requirements. Parking regulations of vehicles on public roads is, in fact, a constant in history, and the author rescues the first traces in Assyria and the Roman Empire, but it was not until the arrival of private cars in the early twentieth century when first cities began to organize exclusive parking areas (parking lots) and then with the advent of urban sprawl, its use as lure in the suburbanization of the city. Parking space is so widespread we should be giving more attention to them, the author claims, and design options are available to, at least, make the best of them. Parking space has been conceived just a matter of minimum requirements to allow car storing and collect money so they just need a sheet of asphalt, an attendant's booth, floodlights for nighttime. As Ian Balwin addresses, Parking lots are the most common and least questioned typology of the built environment. In fact, Ben-Joseph points out that surface parking has been one of the most forgotten typologies in urban design competitions and it is hard to find a contest promoting and looking for advanced parking designs (see this recent 2012 "Awards of Excellence" for high-tech, sustainable parking lots across the U.S).
Strategies for improved spatial integration of these spaces in the city (rather than as barriers or discontinuities), redesign and equipment for recreational use (for example, in the parking lots of large shopping centres or sport stadiums and other facilities), flexibility for shared functions (should parking use be really exclusive everywhere?), using new materials rather than simply paving, supporting its use as cultural exhibition spaces, using them as solar farms, facilitating temporary reclaim in the style of the Park (ing) Day or similar parklet initiatives, ... are some of the alternatives addressed by the author. Of course, this point of view is accepting car culture predominance, not addressing how to avoid the idea of private car-centered mobility. For the author, it seems this is another battle but, in the meantime, new approaches to what already exists should be used. And asphalted parking spaces seem to be a suitable resource to make better use of them.
Rethinking parking is an approach that fits well with the idea of adaptive cities. If we need to activate all the resources and tangible and intangible assets, the significant area devoted to parking is one of the liabilities that could make a difference with little effort and in many cases, however, many social benefits in the form of social activation and maximum use of the city for alternative uses and to create new conditions of possibility in the use and enjoyment of the city.
Read also:
Cover image. Walkmobilie, The Walkmobile approach to understanding transport

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