MobilityCar-FreeLet's Re-Design to Go Back in Time: How to Re-Purpose Car Space...

Let’s Re-Design to Go Back in Time: How to Re-Purpose Car Space for People

Lauren McAskie
Lauren McAskie
I love talking to passionate CityChangers from around the world, hearing their stories and what drives their activism, then writing up guides for others to get inspired by. There's only one thing that could top a car-free city for me, and that's one made out of chocolate... but a girl can only dream. In the meantime, I'll work on making the first come true.

Our cities are car-obsessed. The result? Urban space that is invaluable and useless most of the time because it only serves one purpose: a place for cars to park. But have you ever stopped to think how we could be up-cycling high rise or on-street car parking for better purposes? Keep reading this article for more inspiration on how to do just that.

Over the last few decades, we have built our cities almost entirely around the most convenient mode of transport we know: the private car.

Traffic congestion choking the streets of our cities has become the new norm for most of us living in urban areas, and it’s safe to say that cars have definitely claimed their crown as kings of the concrete jungle.

In fact, around 40% or more of land in the average western city is dedicated to cars. But these space-wasters are generally empty 80% of the time when driven by one single person.

The distribution of city space in Paris. Image credit:

A parked car requires at least 10 times more space than a bike, and in most urban spaces there is an average of 2.2 parking spaces per registered vehicle.

There is a problem with this, though. As people are beginning to become more aware of the environmental and spatial repercussions of car domination and are realising how little space has been left for people – car ownership is gradually decreasing.

In the U.S, there are around 2 billion spaces for only 250 million cars – and this number is only going to get larger as cars go down. So, what happens to the masses of car parking infrastructure left behind? Yep, it’s going to leave behind a significant amount of derelict urban space.

Urban land is becoming increasingly scarce and therefore more valuable as a result of our built-up environment – so change-makers are trying to come up with new and innovative ways to put this car space to better use.

Sometimes it’s not about spending millions on new car-free zones and pedestrianisation infrastructure to bring back city life – but simply about looking at what is already there and how it can be used in a different way to benefit people and increase liveability.

We took a look into some of the most novel ways that change-makers around the world are repurposing car space in their cities to make them healthier, happier and more sustainable and less car-centric places…

Multi-Storeys to Micro-Units

Transforming car-parking into housing is not necessarily a new concept, but it is becoming more and more popular.

A “micro-unit” is a space consisting typically of one room that has all essential amenities included and can usually house up to two people. They are normally roughly the same size as an average parking bay space, and therefore have the potential to transform multi-stories into ingenious and self-sufficient living spaces.

In the U.K, there are 10,500 car parks which could comfortably accommodate up to 400,000 micro-units – enough to house almost 1 million people. This could be revolutionary for both relieving the housing shortage crisis in inner city areas, as well as transforming cities to be less car-centric and more sustainable.

But is this just utopian thinking, or could micro-units really change the game for cities? Well in 2014, a group of students, professors and engineers from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) tested the experimental prototype of the “SCADpad” – a series of micro-apartments constructed in a multi-storey car park in Atlanta.

Likewise, Cambridge based “Marchingdale Developments” have already begun building 180sq foot homes the size of one standard disabled parking space

Whether or not these will be adopted as a long-term strategy by city planners remains to be seen – but the fact that it is already being experimented shows that it is a possibility. 

Return on investment of micro-units is also almost 6 times that of a parking space, and so it’s not entirely unfeasible that this could be something that will become more and more popular in future.

Food Produce

Another creative and practical way to repurpose car space is by using high-rise parking lots as large-scale allotments to grow food produce.

The Melbourne Skyfarm is one great example of where this is already being done. The project began by creating one allotment using only two empty parking spaces in an industrial multi-storey and was originally intended to only run for 12 months.

However, within only 8 months the project had produced around 300kg of herbs and vegetables for people in need using only coffee compost and food waste that would otherwise have gone to landfill.

It was so successful that the farm now remains functioning indefinitely, and they now hope to transform the whole carpark into a green oasis in the heart of the city which will host an orchard, a sustainable café, an environmental education centre and children’s playground.

The Skyfarm is a representation of what is possible when a few change-makers put their heads together to achieve something great, and how bigger and better changes can ripple from there.

Grey to Green: City Nature Spaces

On a local community level some change-makers have also been getting creative with ways to repurpose on-street car-parking.

A recent project in the Hague, Netherlands, allowed for citizens in particular areas to exchange their car parking spaces for an ‘urban oasis’ on their streets. 

The 60,000-euro government funded project encouraged neighbours to give up their cars for good, while allowing them to create fun outdoor living areas or grow produce instead.

These “parklets” as they are normally called, are normally sidewalk extensions that occupy 1-2 parking bays in length. Proposals to create one can come from a diverse range of groups – including NGOs, business owners, stakeholders, schools and residents.

Often, they can be created on a low budget and are relatively low maintenance – you can also use recycled materials as “furniture” for parklets, such as wooden crates or discarded chairs and benches.

More a more detailed guide on how to create a parklet, click here.

In a Nutshell…

These are just some of the ways that space for cars is being transformed around the world – there are a plethora of things that can be done, sometimes it just takes a little bit of time, research and creative thinking. Do you have any innovative ideas for how car-parking could be put to better use in your city? Let us know in the comments below!

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