A better use for sprawling, big-box store parking lots? Urban farms

This conceptual design reimagines the parking lot as something more productive.

A typical parking lot at a big-box store, sprawling over several acres, is empty most of the time. With a new design called Car Parks 2.0, the French design firm Studio NAB shows how that space could be reimagined as an urban farm, with a little room left at the side for charging electric cars from onsite solar panels.


“To tackle the problems facing humanity, we must attack the symbols that made us presently in this situation,” says Studio NAB founder and creative director Nicolas Abdelkader. “The parking lot, and especially [supercenter] parking, is one of these symbols, with all that that entails: automotive activity, overconsumption, irrational urbanism.”

[Image: Studio NAB]

The design strips away asphalt to bring life back to the soil trapped underneath it. In one section, greenhouses and fruit trees grow produce that can be supplied directly to the neighboring store—a little like the model used by the urban farming company Gotham Greens, which grows produce in a greenhouse on a Whole Foods rooftop at one of its locations.

Abdelkader also envisions produce being delivered to nearby homes by cargo bike. In another section, former parking spaces are converted into shared garden plots for people living in the area. In the final section, some parking spaces remain—but even here, the asphalt has been replaced by green space that can help sequester CO2 and absorb rainwater. An algae-filled awning over the cars sequesters more carbon and generates electricity for car chargers.

The idea might be appealing to retailers—losing business to Amazon and other online retailers—that want to give customers more reasons to visit. In the U.S., some big-box retailers are realizing that their parking lots are oversized and are starting to carve out room on some of the sprawl for “town hall” developments. People who might otherwise avoid Walmart or Target might be drawn to the gardens.

For cities, it’s clearly a better use of space for multiple reasons, from the mental health benefits of green space and the health benefit of freshly grown food to the potential for gardens like this to help mitigate problems like flooding and the urban “heat island” effect, where vast stretches of concrete make hot days in cities even hotter. While it’s a concept now, Abdelkader hopes to partner with cities and stores that want “to change sterile spaces into ‘living’ and productive spaces,” he says.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."