Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Parking Lots to Public Spaces

Nur is an associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates

In recent months we've talked a lot about parking issues downtown - whether to keep your lots and garages, how to keep and maintain them, whether to lower parking minimums. I assure you our rants about parking lots and garages are well-founded. If you need to be reminded, there are about 500 million parking spaces throughout the country occupying about 3,590 square miles, as last reported in 2012. Furthermore, in some cities in the U.S., parking lots cover more than 30 percent of the local land area, according to Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of urban planning at M.I.T. who wrote "ReThinking A Lot." Often, these parking lots downtown are owned and/ or managed by municipalities which means they are in fact public land that should be enjoyed by the public.

Pike Place MarketFront (After)
Many cities have become privy to this fact and are increasingly taking a more human-centric approach toward parking spaces and lots and are turning them into the rightful public spaces that they should be. Many of these strategies often start with smaller, guerrilla tactics such as weekly farmers markets in parking lots, or seasonal cultural events, before getting buy-in from local communities to structurally transform the lots into public plazas/ squares, and even light manufacturing spaces (as in the case of Seattle’s latest Pike Place MarketFront). Architects have also increasingly been introducing green design to parking lots for decades now to improve the pedestrian environment downtown. They are incorporating more flora and fauna, and natural permeable paving materials that mitigate storm water runoff and urban heat island effects common in downtowns with high density.

Parklets are another common strategy being employed in major cities to reclaim parking spots for conversion into public spaces. This strategy, while helpful in building support among local businesses and residents to lower parking supply in downtowns, only manages to typically reclaim one or two parking spaces for a limited amount of time. When we start to think bigger, we are able to convert entire parking lots into larger public spaces such as public plazas and parks and we would be reclaiming on average 50-100 parking spaces in one fell swoop.

Here are some examples of parking lots in downtown areas that have been strategically transformed into public spaces. Each case shows that there are incredible social and economic benefits to be reaped from reclaiming parking spaces.

Fort Worth, TX– Sundance Square [Completed in 2013]

Sundance Square (Before - 2007) PC: GoogleMaps
Sundance Square (After - 2016) PC: GoogleMaps
Sundance Square now occupies land that once was home to two separate parking lots (each with more than 60 spaces) across from each other along Main Street in downtown Fort Worth. The Plaza now offers residents, workers and visitors a large space for events, programs and individual use. Public workshops were facilitated by PPS throughout the planning process. "Through the open discussions, it became clear that people mostly thought of downtown Fort Worth as an area to pass through, but not a destination in itself..." and there was no gathering space sufficient enough for large downtown events, which the community felt was important. The community also felt that "the neighborhood could use more places for food and other necessities" so this was addressed by activating the edges of the plaza with more ground floor commercial establishments. The restaurants on the ground floor also feature outdoor seating fronting the plaza and encourage active surveillance of the public space. In addition, the plaza also features water fountains that are interactive and fitting for the warm climate in Texas. 

Montreal, Canada – Joseph Venne Public Plaza [Completed in 2014]
Joseph Venne Public Plaza (Before) PC: GoogleMaps
The Joseph Venne Public Plaza is much smaller in size compared with Sundance Square. It only measures about 10,000 SF and was formerly the site of a parking lot with 20+ spaces. The parking lot's transformation was part of a larger neighborhood revitalization project in the Sainte-Marie neighborhood.

Joseph Venne Public Plaza (After) PC: Steve Montpetit
The site is located adjacent to historic buildings including the JTI-Macdonald Corp building, a well-known tobacco factory and also the CSDM, a French boarding school that was once used as a primary school for tobacco factory workers. The plaza therefore serves to connect the two historic buildings while providing an inviting space for students, workers and residents in the vicinity to gather outdoors in the warmer months. The space was also designed to be ecologically sustainable and today serves as a natural retreat for locals with its greenery, water fountain and wooden benches. 

Pike Place MarketFront (After) PC: GoogleMaps
Seattle, WA – Pike Place MarketFront [Completed in 2017]
Most recently, Pike Place Marketfront has been unveiled as the latest parking lot transformation. Measuring about 39,500 SF, the site was formerly a parking lot with structural remnants of the Municipal Market building. The site now not only features a 30,000 SF public plaza with views of the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, but it's also the site of new vendor spaces and low-income senior housing. The project was led by the City of Seattle and the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority and also engaged in a community planning process. 

Pacific Plaza Park (After)

Dallas, TX – Pacific Plaza Park [In Progress]
Finally, still in progress, is the Pacific Plaza Park in downtown Dallas. In March this year, Dallas City Council approved a development agreement to build the Pacific Plaza Park. The public space has been made possible through a partnership between the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department, the Trust for Public Land and local non-profit Parks for Downtown Dallas. The park will site on the former site of a parking lot in downtown Dallas and will become the city's newest destination, bringing benefits to workers downtown seeking outdoor places to enjoy lunch, and also to nearby businesses by bringing in greater foot traffic.
Pacific Plaza Park (Before)

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