Parking Wrapped in Active Uses

Parking Structures for a Pedestrian-Friendly Environment

In downtowns and other areas where the pedestrian environment is important, parking structures can disrupt and degrade the urban fabric, creating blank concrete walls amid more engaging storefronts. Parking structures should not be located on busy pedestrian streets, major commercial streets, or on valuable intersections (read more about locating parking strategically). Parking structures that must be located in places where they will impact the pedestrian environment should be designed with retail or other commercial uses along the street. This keeps the area active at street level and maintains visual interest. It also benefits the developer by providing an additional source of revenue through the lease or sale of the commercial space. This wrapping of active uses around a parking structure can mean anything from integrating small newsstands, coffee shops, or corner stores on the main street face to creating parking structures that are surrounded by mixed uses, including government offices, police or public safety substations, larger scale retail, and/or private office space, on 3 or more sides and all levels.

Local examples:
  • In 2001, as part of a broader rezoning effort, the City of Cambridge revised its zoning code to exempt underground parking facilities from Gross Floor Area calculations. The new regulations state that the roof of an underground parking facility must not be more than 4 feet above the ground, and that it must be below either a non-parking structure or an open space amenity or pedestrian circulation area. This offers an incentive to create underground parking and to have active first-floor uses. For additional information, see Section 5.25 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance
National examples:
  • Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland includes a parking structure with retail and commercial uses on the first floor. [1, p.24]
  • The 15th & Pearl Mixed-Use Parking Structure in Boulder, Colorado is a 700-car parking structure with five levels above grade and two below. Three sides of the structure are wrapped with a total of 7,500 square feet of ground floor retail space and 7,500 square feet of upper level office space in separately-constructed buildings attached to the parking structure. The City of Boulder’s parking authority occupies the office space, while the retail space is leased to individual stores. The parking is not visible from Pearl Street, a primary pedestrian and shopping corridor, but the parking entrances are clearly marked and emphasized on the side streets. Architecturally, the buildings’ brick and steel facades reflect the historic architecture of the surrounding area, and each of the exterior buildings has its own character. The development of the structure, which was completed in 1999, spurred redevelopment along the East End of the Pearl Street Mall. The cost of the facility was $11.5 million (1999 dollars). The retail space is fully leased and parking spaces generate revenue for the City through long-term, daily, and hourly fees. [2]

Additional Resources:

  1. Maryland Governor’s Office of Smart Growth, Driving Urban Environments: Smart Growth Parking Best Practices, March 2006. Available as a download.
  2. Patric Dawe, “New Urbanist Parking Concepts: Solution to Sprawl through Parking Innovation“, Parking, National Parking Association, March 2004; pp. 38-44.