The old adage goes they “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.” Okay, so that is a song lyric but it’s become well enough known that you wouldn’t know it.
The lyric makes reference to the urban sprawl and the expansion of our concrete jungle into the far reaches of nature. As our cities build up and expand they slowly eat up the natural boundaries going on and on. It’s hard to imagine now that at one point the city of Toronto had a visible limit and you could actually leave the city and end up in countryside. Now the boundary from Toronto to surrounding communities is barely recognizable.
Continued expansion will always require parking. Every shopping centre, school or apartment complex requires parking for the people who will work, live or shop there. How much parking is enough parking? There is actually a formula used by the City of Hamilton to calculate required parking spaces. Residential developments must have 1.25 spaces per residential unit.
The challenge with expansion, and urban intensification, is how to create that parking. The primary problem with the need for parking is the need for space to park. Parking lots, especially those needed for large volumes of cars, are just that: large. Take a look at a traditional shopping centre like LimeRidge Mall or sports stadiums like the Alamodome in San Antonio and you will see just how massive these parking lots are.
Any sort of development in the downtown of Hamilton couldn’t possibly support anywhere near that volume of parking on a surface lot. Despite the lack of available land space, a sea of asphalt would be unattractive and a waste of valuable development land.
A parkade is the answer to both space and design.
A multi-storey parkade is a building designed specifically for automobile parking where there are a number of floors or levels on which parking takes place. With limited space the parking spaces can be stacked on two or more levels. Right away there are more parking spaces with less land used.
The added benefit of constructing a parkade rather than a surface parking lot is the ability to add other uses to the space. Store fronts can be built into the side of a parkade allowing business to be incorporated into the area. Rather than a large flat strip of asphalt and automobiles on the block, the cars are tucked away and hidden.
A great example of a hidden parkade is the Toronto Eaton Centre. Located in the heart of downtown Toronto, the Eaton Centre has 330 retail stores and attracts around one million visitors per week. With that level of traffic a lot of parking is needed. But where would you possibly fit a parking lot large enough? The answer is to build it into the structure itself.
You wouldn’t know it at first glance that there is a parkade built right into the Eaton Centre that has a capacity for 785 spaces. While a parkade in downtown Hamilton wouldn’t need to have this capacity, this is certainly thinking in the right direction.
One of the detractors to constructing a parkade over surface parking is cost. For surface parking the cost averages $4,000 per space to construct. For a parkade the cost averages $20,000 per stall. While the cost per space for a parkade is significantly higher, when you consider the benefit of using less space and creating a more attractive environment, the long term costs outweigh the initial downpayment.
Take a look at one large parking lot in the downtown, bordered by Wilson, John, Rebecca and Hughson. This lot occupies 11,000 square metres and has the capacity to hold 334 cars. Currently the entire city block is one big parking lot. If a parkade was constructed in place of the surface lot, even with only two levels, the same number of spaces could be attained only using half of the block. 5,500 square metres are freed up for a multitude of other uses.
The cost of building a parkade of this size would run roughly $7 million. Again the price tag is enough to cause most to balk. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that the cost of this project, as well as the attached businesses and development of the surplus land makes the total projected cost $12 million. What would this investment bring?
Before the land is a single use 334 space parking lot. Afterwards the block could have a corner cafe, restaurant, perhaps a book store. A green space could be added to the 5,500 square metres of surplus land, all while maintaining the same number or parking spaces in the neighbourhood. Add a third level to the parkade and the total number of parking spaces would increase to 500 spaces and the added option of creating rental units above the retail locations emerges.
Multi-use urban redevelopment in the downtown core? Win-win-win.