We often get asked questions from urban planners, policymakers and real estate professionals asking how they should prepare for the future of mobility today. Some are architects and developers wanting to know how their buildings and planned communities should be designed in a shared automated future. Some are planners and policymakers wanting to know if and how their zoning and building codes should be amended to prepare.
Here are three fundamental ways cities could change in an automated future.
The density of urban centers is likely to increase, as shared automated vehicles affect reliance on private vehicle ownership and use. Even if privately owned, automated vehicles no longer would need to be parked in a city’s highest valued real estate. Instead, these vehicles could self-drive and park away from residential, employment and other activity centers. As such, auto-oriented land uses, such as parking, gas stations and auto dealerships, could be redeveloped into housing, offices and other land uses following principles of highest and best use.
The four criteria guiding the highest and best use of real estate are: legal permissibility; physical possibility; financial feasibility; and maximum productivity.
2. Suburban expansion
Suburban and exurban areas are likely to expand, particularly in regions with high costs of living and a lack of affordable housing. With telecommuting growth, fewer work days in the office and automated vehicles, longer commutes could become less of an impediment. Vehicle automation has the potential to transform commutes from lost driving time into productive hours that could be spent working, relaxing or resting.
3. Parking reduction
A reduction in parking is likely, although estimating the precise reduction is difficult and ikely will be regional based on automated vehicle ownership rates, the built environment and walkability of a city, and the availability of high-quality public transportation and on-demand mobility options. Parking is a very expensive addition to most real estate projects, and the vast majority is unpaid with no return on investment. A reduction in parking demand can free up land and capital to make other property improvements, such as increased density and public spaces.
To prepare for the impact of automated vehicles on real estate, designing for adaptable parking infrastructure that can be repurposed, renovated or redeveloped in the future is key.
While the industry may not be ready to remove parking for automated vehicles today, the ability to repurpose, renovate and redevelop in the future starts with thoughtful planning today. The ability to adapt parking in the future is critical for two reasons:
- Planning for parking adaptability can extend the economic lifespan of a property or a development project
- It reduces the potential for future grayfield sites and makes such sites easier to improve, revitalize and redevelop with minor modifications and capital expenditures.
Plainly stated, parking adaptability has the potential to minimize and mitigate future grayfield blight due to an oversupply of underused parking in the future. Architects, engineers and developers should design for adaptable parking today. And cities should require it as part of local building codes.
Figure 1: Five Common Built in Environments in the U.S. Source: Shaheen et al., 2017.
Here are some tips that can be incorporated into parking and facility design today to help ensure flexibility in transitioning to a shared electric connected and automated vehicle future.
Recommendations for residential design
A number of strategies exist to help make residential garages more adaptable to renovation. Designing for future utility requirements, such as heating, ventilation and cooling, as well as fire exits is key. Additionally, local governments should consider potential zoning and building code amendments to accommodate the renovation of garages into single housing units (with a separate kitchen, laundry and full bathroom).
Allowing for these types of conversions could increase the overall housing supply, enhance affordability (both by increasing supply and creating a rental unit) and increase suburban residential density.
Recommendations for structured parking design
Similarly, a number of strategies exist to make structured parking more adaptable to repurposing, renovation and redevelopment. Developers and facility managers in need of more parking for a limited period of time could consider modular parking systems designed to be moved, reconfigured or deconstructed for other uses. One company, MORE PARK, offers a modular structure that installs over existing surface parking in just a few weeks. This could provide an option for sites that need more parking today without the permanence of a traditional parking structure and the flexibility to quickly convert a parcel for future development.
In addition to interim modular parking facilities, developers and facility managers constructing new structured parking today should consider:
- Designing parking structures for future conversion that allows for minimal modification without affecting key structural elements, such as columns, beams and floor plates;
- People do not want to live or work in a parking garage with really low vertical clearance. Designing parking structures to consider future physical space requirements, such as floor-to-floor heights, column spacing and utility requirements, including heating, ventilation and cooling. In particular, column spacing and floor-to-floor heights are critical. Architects and engineers should consider increasing floor to ceiling heights on the ground floor to match nearby storefronts and allow for ground level uses requiring greater vertical clearances, such as lobbies; and
- Designing and constructing level floors and considering potential design amenities, such as the availability and location of utility hookups.
Parking today should be viewed as open buildings in prime locations for low-cost, transformative development in the future. Both residential garages and structured parking should be designed with flexibility in mind to accommodate transitions to “live-work” land uses.
To plan for the transition to automated vehicles, cities and county governments should develop building and zoning codes that not only accommodate adaptable parking but encourage it by design. This can include amending building codes to require infrastructure that makes transforming garages into inhabitable buildings possible. As automated vehicles begin to enter the marketplace, cities should consider incentives and other programs to begin the conversion of ground level parking to commercial uses. Cities and state governments can encourage the long-term transition of parking to help minimize future grayfield blight by offering grants, financing and other incentives to encourage transitioning parking to new uses as automated vehicles become more mainstream.
Together, transportation, real estate professionals and policymakers need to identify potential alternative uses that could occupy existing parking, if repurposed or renovated. They also should consider collaborating to develop a legal framework that is conducive to adapting and converting existing parking for other uses.
Susan Shaheen & Adam Cohen