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Community / Public space

Could New York’s empty parking spaces be turned into affordable housing?

An area of 250 square feet may not sound like much – but if you’re a New Yorker, it’s potentially huge. The average studio apartment comes in at just 450 square feet, so an extra 250 would amount to a whole 55% more space. It’s an extra bedroom. It’s even, according to the city’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg, big enough to house your very own “micro-unit” apartment. In a city where space is at a premium, even an area the size of a parking space could come in handy.

That’s the thinking, at least, behind a new report by a trio of architects calling themselves 9×18. As “architect-fellows” at the Institute for Public Architecture, Nathan Rich, Sagi Golan and Miriam Peterson set out to analyse the effects of New York’s current parking requirements, and figure out whether changing them could free up space for affordable housing. (Their group’s name represents the average dimensions of a New York parking space, though they use the larger 250 square feet in their study.)

Current NYC regulations stipulate that one parking space should be built for every three housing units. As a result, there is now around 20 million square feet of parking on sites owned by the NYC Housing Association alone. The researchers concluded that this was a little excessive, at least for public housing projects, since 88 per cent of recent developments were built within half a mile of a subway stop, and only 19 per cent of New York’s vehicle owners park their cars in off-street parking near their homes anyway.

So the architects have come up a series of ideas for how to re-use what they see as wasted space. They want to take disused parking lots and repurpose them as community spaces, filled with living spaces, studying areas, bike share hubs or mini parks. They put together designs showing all the ways a 250 square foot space could be used. Here’s one now:

These plans, claim 9×18, could actually make the city money. Each New York parking slot can cost over $50,000 to construct (which seems like quite a lot). But, in NYC, 250 square foot living space can easily sell for over $100,000: by repurposing the space, the city could make a substantial profit on its original investment.

The report makes other recommendations, too. It calls on the city to use a “more sophisticated formula” to decide parking requirements: that would mean basing the number of spaces accompanying new developments on factors such as proximity to public transport and household income, rather than just dividing the number of housing units by three.  New parking could also be housed in jazzy multi-story car parks like the one below, rather than using up the flat space around housing developments.

At the moment, the designs are still just designs, but 9×18 recently presented their ideas to a group of New York urban planners including Jeffrey Shumaker, the city’s chief urban designer. The planners seemed keen: Architizer reported that Shumaker, on seeing the report, joked: “This is all ours now, right? I can just take this back to the office?” Parking lot housing really could become a reality.
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