Mobility 2050/Retrofitting Parking Garages
We envision a 2050 where car usage drastically decreases. Improvements in alternative transportation infrastructure and changing regulations will shift public focus from cars to micromobility, trains, and other more efficient methods to commute. Many cities have already taken steps to reduce car ownership, such as Oslo, Netherlands and Paris, France. Paris plans to ban all cars from its historic landmark regions within the capital, with minimal exceptions. The city of Oslo has enacted a congestion charge, reducing the number of cars entering the city by roughly 14,000 a day. With less cars on the road, the number of car parking spots used will equally decline. If autonomous vehicles continue to improve, large driverless taxi fleets will further reduce the need for car parking. As parking dwindles, owners of parking lots will look for alternative uses. Standard parking lots can be easily replaced by parks or commercial centers. Conversely, retrofitting parking garages presents unique challenges due to their awkward spirals, uneven floors, short ceilings, and concrete structure. We examine the three most likely alternatives for parking garages in 2050, taking cost, social factors, and current trends into account.
Bike Garages edit
To fill the hole left by the decline of cars, bike use will skyrocket. Infrastructure changes will enable this shift by increasing bike lanes, setting up physical barriers for bike lanes, and eventually closing off streets to cars. This is favorable because bikes are the most energy efficient form of transportation, averaging 5.5 Watt-hours per kilometer, and up to 12 bikes can fit in one car parking spot. Space saved by swapping cars for bikes has the potential to revitalize our cities by increasing commerce and making walking safe again. Roads filled with bikes will reduce emissions, save lives, and save money.
Demand for bike parking and bike-shares will increase because bikes present a possible solution to the first mile/last mile problem. People are hesitant to take public transport because there are no feasible transport options between the train stop and their final destination. In the cities of 2050, people will bike to their nearest train or bus stop, park their bike in a converted parking garage, take the public transport, and rent a bike to their final destination. In the Netherlands, this vision is a reality where 40% of Dutch train riders bike to the train station everyday. The Dutch have integrated affordable bike parking and bike rentals into nearly every train station across the country. They have constructed massive bike parking garages like the one at Utrecht’s train station capable of holding up to 22,000 bikes.
In many cities, shared bikes and scooters clutter streets and sidewalks presenting unnecessary hazards. To resolve this issue, we believe rideshare companies will look to convert parking garages for bikes, storing their micromobility devices safely and conveniently.
One challenge to converting parking garages to bike parking garages, is that not all parking garages are centrally located near transportation hubs or commercial centers. Not to mention, if all car users switch to bikes, the space efficiency of bikes means only a fraction of the parking garages will be required to house all of these bikes. We predict bike parking garages will proliferate in areas near transportation and commercial centers, and people will be willing to walk an extra couple of blocks for a more secure bike parking experience than a street bike rack. Even in these popular areas, bikes may not take up an entire parking garage, and the upper floors may need to be used for another purpose. Garages in areas with less traffic will also need to be converted to other uses which is why bike parking is a tool but not a solution to retrofitting parking garages.
Urban Farms edit
Retrofitting parking garages into urban farms is another option we envision. With the population of cities globally continuing to grow, there will be increased strain on the supply chain to bring food into major cities. We are also seeing a trend towards eating healthier and locally sourced foods. Parking garages turned to urban farms would provide cities with local produce without the need for extensive shipping. Growing using hydroponics will also be extremely sustainable in terms of water, electricity, and land usage. Because the crops are in a controlled environment pesticides and artificial fertilizers are unnecessary. Placing a green farm in the middle of a city would increase the quality of life for all residents nearby. The farm could be a community growing center with volunteers helping out and the increased greenery would result in cleaner air. This combination of shorter shipping, reduced inputs, better food, and cleaner communities makes the conversion from parking garage to urban farm a very desirable option.
Parking garages could easily transform into farms because of their solid structure, open layouts, and possible rooftop space. The size of parking garages would allow for the growing, processing, and packaging all in one building. Below ground garages could be used to grow low-light produce and sunlight could be used on the roofs of above ground garages. Fully equipping a garage would take a sizable initial investment and continuous staff to care for the farms, however we believe that in the long run these urban farms will become profitable. Advances in hydroponic and grow light technology could also make this equipment cheaper by 2050.
Today in 2023, there are already examples of parking garages retrofitted into urban farms. One example is La Caverne underneath Paris, France. La Caverne sits within a 9,000 sq m parking garage underneath a housing complex. They grow mushrooms, endives, and microgreens. The mushrooms can grow in low-light, the endives can grow in virtually no light, and their microgreens are grown with hydroponics under LED lights. They pride themselves in using no pesticides, no artificial fertilizers, minimal water, and low electricity bill. They also say the day their produce is harvested it is put on a bike and delivered directly to local restaurants. Another current example is Citiponics in Singapore. Citiponics built a modular hydroponic vertical farm on the roof of a parking garage. Their system can produce up to 25 different leafy vegetables and herbs. Also they have reported that their 0.5 acre farm can produce up to 4 tons of food annually while using only 1% of the water an equivalent conventional farm would use.
We can keep following these examples into the year 2050 and create cleaner urban environments, healthy locally sourced produce, profitable businesses, and more jobs by converting some or parts of parking garages into urban farms.
Residential and Commercial Centers edit
We believe the last major alternative for parking garages will be residential and commercial centers. This option restricts the number of eligible parking garages as apartments and stores require specific building conditions. Parking garages that are above ground and mostly flat will be ideal for this conversion. Many parking garages exist near densely populated areas, making this conversion practical as demand for housing is greatest here. In terms of structural feasibility, retrofitting a parking garage is much cheaper than demolishing it and building a new apartment complex. Compared to converting garages to bike parking or hydroponics, the increased workload and financial investment to plan and convert to apartments would be offset by a higher financial return. Apartments in Paris rent monthly for 35 euros per square meter on average, compared to bike parking spaces averaging about 6.58 euros per square meter. The larger return on investment makes this option attractive and, in some cases, will be worth the higher up front costs.
Converting parking garages into housing centers may mirror the social trends of industrial factories. Manufacturing warehouses abandoned in the 1950s were later converted to industrial lofts and marketed as a vintage style of living. These lofts became popular over time, starting as affordable housing with uncommon benefits and later gaining traction in the high end housing market. We expect parking garage apartments to experience a similar social trend, becoming popular due to their unique style.
Parking garages are already being retrofitted with apartments and commercial spaces. In Wichita, Kansas, the Broadway Autopark Apartments was previously a five level parking garage before the developer converted it into housing space. The complex offers standard apartment amenities along with parking in front of the apartments and free bike share memberships. These unique amenities and their eccentric modern design make the Broadway Autopark housing more competitive with traditional housing options. Commercial space is available for lease on the ground floor of the building, a layout which is similar to most city apartments. We believe parking garage owners and residents alike will benefit from converting these spaces into apartments and commercial space.
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