Since 2011, America’s largest cities have been growing at a faster rate than their suburbs and many revitalized urban downtowns are safer, cleaner, and livelier than they have been in generations. Now, some suburbs, as part of an effort to stem the outflow of jobs and young people, are making plans to reinvent themselves with denser downtowns, mixed-use developments, and pedestrian friendly streetscapes.
One of the biggest challenges to making suburbia more urban is finding places to put all of the cars. A glaring example is the suburban downtowns of Long Island, where vast expanses of valuable real estate, estimated to be more than 4,000 acres, are consumed by surface parking lots. But thanks to the ParkingPlus Design Challenge—an initiative of the Long Island Index, a non-profit regional planning group sponsored by the non-profit Rauch Foundation—concept plans have recently been released that show how land can be reclaimed from these dead zones in four different suburban communities.
The plans were unveiled on January 16 in a lecture hall filled with politicians and businessmen at Long Island’s Adelphi University. “Parking garages have bad reputations, typically thought of as foreign, ugly, and scary,” Jocelyn Wenk, Associate Director of the Long Island Index told the assembled crowd. “We know that they don’t have to be.”
“ParksandRides,” the plan for the town of Ronkonkoma by a team headed by Roger Sherman Architecture + Urban Design was the most ambitious. It featured a bubble wrapped parking superstructure longer than a prone Empire State building with hotels, housing, conference centers, sports fields with seating for 9,000 people, and even an air terminal annex. Glass enclosed ramps weave through the structure taking cars to floors where drivers can drop off their car close to their destination.
The team headed by Utile, Inc. Architecture + Urban Planning designed “Civic Arches” as a monumental garage prototype to provide a civic gathering area for Rockville Center, a bustling commercial complex. Utile’s plan takes its cues from the massive arches running underneath a Long Island Railroad viaduct and calls for a large arcaded structure that could serve as a farmers market on weekends, when parking spaces are empty. Possible add-ons include housing, retail, and tennis courts.
For the town of Patchogue, where many visitors have trouble finding parking spaces, the team headed by dub studios designed “Main Street Brackets,” a mid-block parking deck as well as a shared public private parking lot system that could result in a 30 percent reduction in the number of parking spaces necessary to service the town’s needs. According to the designers, their system, which incorporates a smart phone application and automated signage, will save the town’s motorists the equivalent of 150,000 miles annually that would otherwise be used up trying to find an available parking space.
In Westbury, a town that is bifurcated by the Long Island Railroad, the team headed by LTL Architects conceived of “Train Terraces,” a terraced mega-structure that could be built in phases. Train Terraces would straddle the train tracks with parking decks layered amid offices, multifamily housing, recreational facilities, and a high-tech incubator hub. The varied program for this multipurpose parking facility also includes alternative transportation options such as buses and a bicycle support facility.
In addition to being charged with designing architecturally distinguished parking structures that could serve as prototypes for suburbs throughout the country, the teams were instructed to include program elements that would address the critical issue of financing the developments. Although several of the plans appear to have been intended more as theoretical exercises than as practical solutions, Patchogue Mayor Paul V. Pontieri Jr. said he was considering the dub studio design for his town. “They gave us a price of $6 million, which is a very doable number for us,” he said. “The design of the parking deck is not obtrusive and it is forward thinking. It is also safe and comfortable for people to use and very accessible.”