Taking Parking Lots Seriously, as Public Spaces

With perhaps as many as 2 billion parking spaces in the US, planners and architects should "take seriously" the parking lot as an actual, useful public space.
January 7, 2012, 9am PST | Judy Chang
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"For starters we ought to take these lots more seriously, architecturally. Many architects and urban planners don't. Beyond greener designs and the occasional celebrity-architect garage, we need to think more about these lots as public spaces, as part of the infrastructure of our streets and sidewalks, places for various activities that may change and evolve, because not all good architecture is permanent. Hundreds of lots already are taken over by farmers' markets, street-hockey games, teenage partiers and church services. We need to recognize and encourage diversity," writes author Michael Kimmelman.

In a competition to adaptively reuse shopping malls, for example, Kimmelman cites one planning firm's approach to parking lots:

"Interboro noticed that the parking lot was quietly being used as a depot and stop by bus lines. A hot dog truck had set up shop there. Patrons at a drive-through McDonald's ate in their parked cars. Truckers slept there overnight. The Fishkill flea market took over on weekends, and a graphic design firm and a couple of banks and a post-office processing center converted vacant mall stores into offices.

In short, said Daniel D'Oca, one of Interboro's partners, 'what looked dead wasn't, but you would have missed it if you just passed by it with a predisposed idea about sprawl.'"

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Published on Friday, January 6, 2012 in The New York Times
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