If you were given an empty space in the heart of Atlanta, what would you do with it? Would you build it high, creating apartments with breathtaking views of the city? Would you make a world-class grocery store with fresh fruits and vegetables and space to enjoy a bite? Would you create a state-of-the-art headquarters for a leading technology company? Or would you plop down a bunch of cars in a grid and call it a parking lot?
PARK(ing) day—a global event where citizens, artists and activists temporarily transform parking spaces into public places—is around the corner on September 20, and this week marks Georgia Commute Options’ Clear the Deck campaign, which encourages employees to clear out their parking deck for a week by trying alternative commute options. 'Tis the season of noticing all the space that parked cars take up, and focusing attention toward other uses of that space.
Midtown Alliance took a look at five properties in Midtown that had past lives as surface parking lots. Now, they have new and improved uses: existing as residential properties, retail spaces, and commercial office, providing new life to Midtown. Photos are courtesy of Google Street View.
Nine15 Midtown / Dancing Goats, a mixed-use residential space
AMLI Arts Center, a residential space
Whole Foods Market Midtown / Icon, grocery + residential space
Hanover Midtown, a mixed-use residential space
NCR headquarters, a corporate office space
Shifting the focus in code
In recent years zoning requirements for parking in Midtown have changed. In 2017, the Midtown Zoning Code was updated to reduce parking. The Zoning Code changes included bonus incentives for buried parking as well as greatly reduced parking and public parking in new developments, and reduced the maximum number of parking spaces allowed. To further improve street-scapes, the code updates included regulations to minimize the visibility of parking structures by mandating active uses at street level (such as retail or residential units) and above street level being better screened and incorporated with building design.
Freeing up space for other options
In 2014 the Savannah College of Art and Design produced SCADpad, a “micro-housing” experiment inside one of its parking decks. The project created three housing units and green common spaces in the parking deck as an adaptive reuse experiment. Each “Pad” took up 135 square feet--one parking space--and housed an alternating group of students, faculty, and guests.
"At least half of parking spaces are vacant about 40% of the time," said SCADpad designer and SCAD graduate Eny Lee Parker in an interview with Refinery29. "That is a lot of waste, considering the rate of urban migration."
Smarter approaches to parking
Office buildings and workspaces in Midtown are beginning to shift to think about commuting as more than just driving alone, a shift that can work to reduce the demand for parking.
“Residents and workers alike are prioritizing other amenities above subsidized and bundled parking, and employers are starting to realize it doesn’t pay to subsidize a drive-alone commute,” said Katie Marticke, Senior Program Manager of Midtown Transportation at Midtown Alliance.
“Midtown employers who focus instead on subsidizing clean commute modes like carpooling and transit typically see a higher use of clean commute modes—and that means reduced parking demand,” said Marticke.
NCR, a company which moved its global headquarters to Midtown about two years ago (using space that used to be a surface parking lot), has found innovative ways to help employees think outside of the car.
The company's software team developed an app with a feature that allows commuters to see real-time the number of spots available in NCR’s parking deck.
“We give employees this information so they can decide whether or not to take transit, park nearby, or walk if they live close enough,” said Ricardo Vera, NCR’s commute and transportation specialist.
“It is part of our overall commuter program that provides employees with the information and the tools they need to make the best decision for them that particular day. We like to give people as many options as possible because we understand that not every day is going to be the same,” said Vera.
Flexibility is a key component of commuter programs and can allow for employees not to feel "locked in" to any particular commute method.
“National and local trends toward decreasing driving and vehicle ownership are starting to impact the demand for parking in Midtown,” reported the Midtown Alliance Parking Assessment and Action Plan (2015). The report also noted a trend toward driving less as transit ridership increases in Midtown and suggests a continued promotion of employer-based demand management strategies to reduce the demand for parking.
Midtown Transportation works with hundreds of Midtown employers looking to address parking constraints, increase employee satisfaction and retention, attract talent and decrease overhead costs.