Cities Get Smart: Parking Innovations and the Future of Urban Driving
Have asphalt fatigue? You’re not alone. In the United States, reports say there are an estimated three non-residential parking spaces per vehicle. That makes for more than 800 million parking spaces total, covering an incredible 4,360 square miles. By some accounts, cities like Los Angeles and Orlando are fully one-third parking lots. We have a feeling that Joni Mitchell wouldn’t be too happy about that.
Clearly, we’re overdue for some parking innovations. Luckily, our cities are rising to the challenge. From solar canopies and automated parking garages to driverless tech and eco-friendly meters, making parking greener and more efficient improves nearly every aspect of city living.
We don’t mean to be insulting, but your average parking garage is not the smartest. Not only do urban parking garages take up valuable real estate, but their inefficient designs waste further space.
That’s where the robots come in.
At the new PearlWest office and entertainment development in Boulder, Park Plus technology means cars are transported via robotic dollies, which transfer them to small cubby spaces in the garage’s storage vault—no humans (or space-sucking ramps) required.
The planned Willoughby Square project in Downtown Brooklyn has also made automated parking a cornerstone of its development plan. Beneath a one-acre public park will be a subterranean garage capable of accommodating 700 vehicles. And it’s using some high-tech parking innovations to do it.
To start, “drivers will pull their cars into one of 12 entry rooms, where plasma screens, mirrors and laser scanners help direct the vehicle into the correct position,” writes Julie Satow in The New York Times. After that, light sensors and cameras will record the car’s dimensions before it’s lowered into a tightly designed parking vault. And when you want your ride back? A series of automated hoists will return it from the bay and return it to you in perfect shape. This ingenious system has even been described as “a vending machine for cars.”
Speaking of vending machines: Car start-up Carvana has taken the off-kilter parking practice to the extreme. At each location, cars are stored in vertical parking garages that resemble giant gumball dispensers. Once you’ve bought your car in advance, you’re given an oversized coin to deposit in the slot, which sets the gears in motion and delivers your car to you. Genius.
Beyond garages, cities are also exploring smart ways to streamline street parking (and cut down on the emissions produced by drivers endlessly circling the block). In Berlin, Siemens has trialed its Integrated Smart Parking Solution, which uses sensor infrastructure to alert drivers of open spaces nearby. And in Somerville, MA, Audi has put driverless parking technology to the test. So far, this robot uprising is looking pretty promising.
Of course, parking innovations that cut down on emissions are already doing the planet a favor. But cities are trying out further green methods to combine parking spaces with improved air quality.
One genius way to do both? Solar canopies. Turns out, when you construct a series of solar panels above a parking lot, you open up all kinds of possibilities, like the ability to charge electric cars on the spot, generate energy, and cut down on the “urban heat island effect” generated by miles of blistering tarmac. Add in green paving solutions like porous asphalt, which lets water drain into the soil below, and you’re looking at a whole new way to park.
Even parking meters can get a little greener. In Madrid, for instance, cars don’t just pay for the parking space they occupy: Their rate grows or drops depending on environmental impact, all tracked using vehicles’ plate numbers.
One more way to improve our parking lots and garages? Transform them into multi-use cultural spaces.
In London, the Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park has been reborn as an art gallery, rooftop bar, and event space—it’s even home to a local orchestra. Speaking of rooftop bars, Lisbon’s Park Bar is located on the roof of an active parking garage, and revelers have to walk past fleets of vehicles on their way up. Then there’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot in New York, which sets the Bard’s beloved works against an entirely new backdrop.
If all that sounds like a stretch, just think: Every time you’ve attended a tailgate, it’s proof that parking lots make for pretty great hangout spots.