It has often been bemoaned by Cyclists, New Urbanists, Pedestrianists, and anyone else who isn’t in love with cars that parking lots and the sheer amount of space devoted to storing our vehicles when we are not using them is a huge detriment to our cities. Take a look at a map of most major downtown cores and you will see plenty of big grey dead zones that people create to take advantage of the need for suburbanites to find parking for their cars when they are working their 9-5.
While I was in Korea, I came across the largest Wal-Mart that I had ever seen in my life. I actually spotted it one morning when I stumbled out of a friends apartment on my way to a ‘school staff picnic’ without having sobered up. As I stood on the side of the Ulsan River Road, I looked to my left and spotted the thing towering over the surrounding neighborhood like a monument to American capitalist imperialism.* I was flabbergasted and stunned by the size of the thing–a six story Wal-Mart? Seriously?
What I discovered days later when I actually went to said Wal-Mart as part of my search for sour cream, was that the Wal-Mart store was only levels 1 to B2 while levels 2-6 were actually parking. Can you imagine a big box store that is pedestrian friendly at street level and doesn’t have acres of parking in front of it? Well it would look a little like the photos you see here. Ever since I lived in Asia, I have felt that it is very important to have enough parking spaces for the number of tenants you have. Have you ever seen a parking lot where cars are parked 3 deep and left in neutral so that people can move them around when they need to get their own car out in the morning? I have also appreciated the made-in-Asia solutions to deal with storing cars in limited space. (Click here for an NYC adaptation) These park aids stacked on top of the stores that they service are not only space saving and pedestrian friendly, you don’t even have to worry about that long run across the parking lot when it rains.
While this style of parking came about in Asia due to sheer limitations on space (let’s face it when you have 43 million people in a country like Korea that is roughly the size of Nova Scotia you can’t really afford to take up huge amounts of space for cars), but that doesn’t mean that their solution couldn’t also be our solution.
* Wal-Mart has since pulled out of Korea, mostly because they didn’t understand the way a country like Korea shops. Well-to-do Koreans go to department stores, low income Koreans go to street markets, and well-to-do Korean housewives know exactly what every thing – not just the top 200 things that Wal-Mart undercuts on – should cost.