Architects Re-Imagine New York City Parking Spots As New Housing

What if urban planners started un-paving parking lots and putting up more affordable housing instead?

Architects Re-Imagine New York City Parking Spots As New Housing
[Photo: Eldad Carin via Shutterstock]

One day, when we all get to work by bikes or zero-emissions public transit at light speed, there will be no need for parking spaces. Until then, New York City zoning laws require that they exist for various residential buildings. But what if all that asphalt square footage could be used for playgrounds–or even new apartment units?


A team of architect-fellows at the Institute for Public Architecture wants to take unused parking spots and convert them into new housing, co-working spaces, bike-share hubs, farmers markets, and more. Last week, the 9 x 18 group (named after the size of a typical parking spot) released preliminary designs illustrating what those new spaces might look like.

By 9 x 18’s calculation, even one parking space can cost up to $50,000 to build. But taking those 250 square feet and adapting them to other uses might bring back higher returns on investment, 9 x 18 argues. If the average apartment is around 450 square feet, a 250-foot parking spot could serve a variety of purposes.

In theory, the idea could be applied to both private and public developments, but the architects have only focused on parking spaces owned by the city, specifically the ones attached to New York City housing projects. The reason for this, they say, is that public housing parking lots tend to be underutilized–and it can be a lot easier to get things done when the city owns the plots.

“A lot of interviews we had with [New York City Housing Authority] residents said they’d want to start offices and workspaces,” Sagi Golan, one of the 9 x 18 architects, says. “What if they could provide office spaces others could rent or use?”

Still, in a city that has skyrocketing rents and a shortage of affordable housing, a project that leases public land to private interests could be viewed as a detriment, rather than a benefit, to NYCHA residents. Why only take parking spots from low-income New Yorkers? But Golan says that the project has NYCHA residents’ interests at heart, even if the parking spaces are intended for mixed public and private use. “The neighborhood and NYCHA could rethink parking as a shared amenity,” he says.

Part of the reason 9 x 18 generated the idea, he adds, is because of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing agenda. Earlier this month, the team presented the idea-in-progress to a panel of urban planners, including Jeffrey Shumaker, New York City’s chief urban designer at the department of city planning. He expressed enthusiasm for the idea, but the team plans on continuing to refine the project at the Institute for Public Architecture’s workshops going forward.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.