The Future of Parkades

Parking garages are made for cars, but they should be built with other uses in mind.

What if “alternative” transportation options like ride sharing, walking, cycling, and public transit stop being alternatives? How would our infrastructure needs change? 

A 2017 Forbes magazine story explores this idea, with a specific focus on the structures we build for cars. In Cars May Not Be In Parking Garages’ Future, writer Kyle Hagerty speaks to American architect and urbanist Peter Merwin about how to future-proof these buildings.

Merwin sees a future with fewer cars as a positive opportunity for developers.

“[Merwin] believes the shift to automated vehicles and alternative transportation could be one of the single-largest windfalls of real estate. Increasing the percentage of cash-generating real estate would put more dollars into the coffers of cities, resulting in better infrastructure, better schools and fewer potholes. Likewise, developers would earn more profit.”

- Kyle Hagerty, Forbes Contributor

Should we stop building parking garages? Not at all, according to Merwin – but when we do build them, we should do it with other uses in mind. He recommends a couple of inexpensive practices that make these structures more flexible:

  • Design flat floors on every level instead of slopes.
  • Plan for large floor-to-floor heights, e.g., 15-ft. levels, which allow for conversion into lofts, residential, retail, or office space.

Merwin says some North American cities have parking regulations that make little practical sense, such as high minimum parking requirements near drinking establishments. He says a safer (and more future-proof) solution would be to encourage people going to bars use alternative forms of transportation. 

The future of parking garages could become a major consideration in our own city as we move into the future. The Calgary Transportation Plan, which was approved alongside the Municipal Development Plan in 2009, outlines a city with multiple transportation options that include walking, cycling, and public transit—not just driving. 

Hagerty notes that developers in Seattle are now allowed to design residential apartments near public transit that have no parking at all. Not only that, there’s a waiting list of developers who are interested in building these types of residences. And it’s not just happening in Seattle. In 2015 Calgary City Council unanimously approved plans for a 167-condo tower in East Village that has zero parking stalls, a project that attracted particular interest from young Calgarians – and seniors.

We know Calgary’s population is aging, which means we can expect the demand for car-free transportation options to increase. Studies suggest the majority of older adults want to live in amenity-rich communities with reliable access to public transportation, places where large parking structures may be unnecessary or obsolete. 

As initiatives like the Smart Cities Challenge encourage Calgarians to brainstorm innovative ways to address the challenge (among others) of sustainable growth, non-car options are likely to become more available and more appealing. 

May 25th, 2018

As we reconsider transportation, we must also reconsider the structures we build for cars.