Surface car parks are not all bad

Surface car parks get a lot of bad press. They kill urbanity. They create hostile environment for people. They alienate buildings from the street. You know, the “big box in a sea of car parks” shopping centres that have the hide to call themselves town centres, the highway strips of “motordom” as my friend Gordon Price calls it. Here is a sample of an area in south east Queensland where a series of shopping shopping centres collide amongst their car parks. One of many examples here but typical of many examples around the world.

I get all that, but for my money there is a silver lining. They have an important redeeming future – their redevelopment  potential. They are low value uses that can easily be changed to more urban development forms. I saw this in action big time in Richmond, part of  metro Vancouver earlier this year, which I reported on here, where the March of urbanism into areas previously dominated by a lot of surface parking around low value development was obvious:  

I was browsing Retrofitting Suburbia recently and it struck me that the big opportunities it deals with are often places where there was a lot of surface car parking – disused shopping malls particularly:

So the traditional suburban shopping mall of big boxes in a sea of car parking and commercial strips of motordom, while they cause lots of anti-city impacts, do provide a lot of fertile ground for redevelopment for mixed use, dense housing and other things that benefit cities.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the original edge city, Tysons Corner in Virginia, now known as Tysons, where this former huge car parking dominated motordom looked like this:  

It now has a metro line going through it, and has been comprehensively planned to be turned into a real city, like this:

And development is progressively converting those car parks into city elements.

Greg Vann

August 2015


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