Back in September, the Long Island Index, part of the nonprofit Rauch Foundation, launched ParkingPLUS, a design challenge that asked four architecture and design firms to come up with better ways for the community to potentially use the more than 4,000 acres currently devoted to parking lot asphalt in Long Island. A follow up to the Long Island Index’s 2010 Build A Better Burb competition, the newly released ParkingPLUS proposals include everything from a signage revamp for existing parking lots to a design for a 30-acre parking playground filled with space for hockey, soccer, and golf games.
For Long Island, where America’s suburban sprawl was essentially founded, the proposals offer the potential to reshape the suburb into a place that’s both commuter and transit-friendly and becomes a community destination in itself.
The Long Island Index envisioned parking solutions that could both accommodate the needs of cars and help revitalize downtown areas:
[S]tructures for parking can incorporate desired local amenities—they can be much more than just parking. The ParkingPLUS challenge asked designers to integrate new uses that would benefit local downtowns, from civic plazas and recreation space to apartments, office space, and biking and transit infrastructure. These “PLUSes” can be added to parking decks, or they can be sited on land currently occupied by surface parking that would be freed up by structured parking.
Suburban cities across the country are trying to develop walkable downtown areas as a way to create more vibrant communities around central business districts. Despite this pedestrian-friendly outlook, people usually still have to drive from less transit-friendly suburban areas into the downtown, where they can park and walk around. For ParkingPLUS, each firm developed a design for a specific downtown area on Long Island, but the goal was that these ideas would be easily scalable to downtowns all over Long Island and in other parts of the country, where the spread of mass-produced surburbs modeled on Nassau County’s Levittown became ubiquitous after World War II.
Here’s what they came up with:
Parks and Rides
In the hamlet of Ronkonkoma, Roger Sherman Architecture + Urban Design had a 30-acre parking lot adjacent to a busy commuter rail station and a regional airport to play with. Laid on its side, the Empire State Building would fit inside. This design makes the lot into part parking, part playground. Half would be devoted to a garage that would cover the train platform and a new airport shuttle. The open space created by garage parking could be used for indoor soccer fields, a hockey rink, mini-golf and a driving range, go-carts and a cricket stadium.
Rockville Centre, a community connected to Manhattan through the Long Island Railroad, already has a walkable village center with restaurants and shopping, but lacked a civic gathering space. Utile, a Boston-based design firm, created a garage with a flexible ground floor that can be used for commuter parking on weekdays and festivals and markets on the weekends. Its arched structure was based on the columns of the raised tracks of the LIRR it provides parking for. If demand for parking diminishes, the prototype is set up to be able to easily transition into space for restaurants, shops, or offices.
Main Street Brackets
Los Angeles and New York-based firm Dub Studios created a system of pedestrian pathways and and automated signage to help people find open spots in the village of Patchogue’s existing parking lots behind buildings, where parking demand is often uneven because drivers can’t see where space is available. By making it easier to find open spots with signs that list the parking available in each lot, the system will decrease the loops drivers make trying to find space. Pedestrian pathways designed to make it more comfortable for people to walk through back streets on their way through downtown will hopefully encourage more people to park in lots that aren’t directly adjacent to their destination.
New York City-based LTL Architects proposed two parking garages that connect over the tracks of the Long Island Railroad in the village of Westbury. The structures will double the amount of parking available near the train, encouraging commuting by rail. On one side, a transportation hub with a bus stop and bike parking will be shaded by a solar array to power electric car charging, and a rooftop garden on the track level will be available to use as a farmers market. A small business incubator will be housed on the lot. On the northern lot, a garage would be surrounded by residential and commercial space with restaurants, cafes, and apartments. A pedestrian walkway would connect these spaces to the train station.
Each plan was required to analyze costs of building and maintaining these structures, as well as economic benefits that could come from them. There’s no guarantee they’ll ever see the light of day, but with all these potential uses for bare asphalt, who wants a plain park-and-ride anymore?