Making Parking Lots Beautiful

Parking is a $100 billion industry. It shapes every city. Driverless cars may change that.

Only four percent of a car’s lifetime is spent on the road. Despite a historic year in sales, fewer people are forecast to own cars. PricewaterhouseCoopers believes self-driving vehicles could reduce the number of cars on the road more than 90 percent (PDF). If car ownership around cities decreases, we might be able to live without a lot of parking lots and garages.

Likewise, helped along by fintech disruption, bank branches are expected to continue to decline in the coming years.


What might cities, communities, and businesses do to address so much vacant land? More housing makes sense as more people move into cities, but what else?

All this efficiency will likely kill millions of existing jobs and lead to the emergence of industries and services not yet invented. We’re seeing some early signals of what businesses could fill those vacant spaces.

Urban farming or farm skyscrapers are a possibility. Semi-permanent popups for entrepreneurs makes sense.

Block by Block, an initiative from the United Nations and the creators of Minecraft, helps reform public space for young adults in cities around the world.

Cities and businesses have rebuilt before in recent memory. The decline of manufacturing and The Great Recession dealt the Midwest a blow but now nearly every major city in the region is rebuilding, growing, and attracting Millennials.

Abandoned old malls have housed reinvention. A one-million-square-foot mall in Texas was converted into a tech business headquarters and YMCA.

OpportunitySpace is a marketplace for ugly or undervalued publicly-owned land in cities. It facilitates an ongoing experiment to help rethink urban farming and housing.

“We’re taking inactive real estate that has only been looked at conventionally by the traditional real estate community and putting it into the hands of people who are innovating and thinking about the future of urban development,” said OpportunitySpace co-founder Alexander Kapur.


He’s seen banks in strip malls converted to clinics as health care moves out of hospitals. A parking lot in Louisville was converted into an event space, outdoor theater, and beer garden in the summer and fall by ReSurfaced, an initiative from City Collaborative.

“Because the venue was able to draw so much foot traffic, there’s very likely going to be more interest in redeveloping the area,” Kapur said.

The technological advances taking place today won’t just reshape how we get around or where we do our financial services. They will likely reshape the physical layout of cities.

You can’t predict the future, but these trends of placemaking and reactivation today will help shape the cities of tomorrow.

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Photo Credit: City Collaborative