Friday, March 9, 2012

Common Garage Parking, In Practice

In the comments to the previous post, Nicolas Derome linked to an interesting residential development outside Toronto (very close to a major planned DPZ project) which appears to have adopted the garage-parking-under-square approach.  Google's streetview has covers this development, allowing you to explore it on your own, but in the aerial view below the essential elements are all visible:

The two large, curving ramps in the center square lead down to the garage.  Throughout the development, stairways lead from sidewalks directly into the garage area.  There is no above-ground garage parking (with all the aesthetic and space-saving benefits which flow from from that),  although there are a handful of on-street spaces.  Streets are 30 feet from curb to curb in most places, although one street, designated as an emergency access lane, is only 14 feet with no sidewalk.

The design is very much Garden City, resembling a somewhat denser Radburn (or any one of dozens of low-rise American public housing projects) with segregated paths for automobile and pedestrian traffic.  In the absence of any use but residential, there is no pretense of urbanism here.  Without places to walk to, the advantage gained by stowing the cars underground is not exploited. 

Could a similar design be adapted to traditional urbanism?  I've shown the example of Bastia, or a larger city such as Mannheim, or Savannah, but in each case the underlying theme is simply moving the built elements closer together, whether in a grid or in a more organic layout:

Would any attempt to integrate garage ramps into a dense urban environment fall victim to "overblown traffic engineering and design codes," as Marc mentions in the earlier comments?  It is difficult to imagine anything as modest and and sensitive as the Bastia and Mannheim examples being allowed in the United States, but this Canadian development shows at least that it can be an economically viable design approach.


  1. It's remarkable how much more appealing it looks as a place to walk around when you tighten up the streets and mix up the street pattern. Actually, my first thought was that the second image was a satellite image from a European city. Your second image reveals that the architects got the roof pattern right to say "dignified European city center." It's too bad that the building facades say "boring Canadian suburb." This is still an interesting case study. Thanks for the tip, Nicolas!

    1. Yes, the second image involved a little cut and paste work with elements taken solely from the original aerial shot. The result does look vaguely Parisian due to the color of the roofs and the numerous dormers.

    2. Mostly is the continuous roofs (not separate buildings) and ample use of interior courtyards, which is a common theme in central Paris.

  2. The weird proto-lawns are also kind of freaky... it's like the architects really wanted urban building forms, but someone in marketing kept screaming "there neeeeed to be lawns!! lawwwwwwns"...and they eventually threw something in at the last moment to shut that guy up.

    They give it a funny vibe that doesn't really work very well IMO.

  3. There's a new development in Cincinnati kind of like that--in that the whole neighborhood is being built on top of a parking slab on the floodplain and hence elevated out of it that way--as another example. It's along the Ohio, between the two stadiums.

    The master plan was still far, far too tepid in taking advantage of the advantages this offers, though--IIRC they STILL have substantial surface parking on top of (literally) a giant parking deck!

    1. Steve -- I guess that's "The Banks" project? The renderings do appear to show large surface lots in the interior of blocks, and the tab for "directions" which shows these lots lists only parking options:

      A shame if that's the case.

  4. There are actually a token few businesses at the entrance of this development. Although that and BRT is all there is within a 5 minute walk, there are a lot of offices, retail and a civic centre within a 10-15 minute walk. What I find disappointing is that the new high rises at the edge of this development don't have retail, most of the retail is on the other side of large arterials and often in the strip mall form. Also note that these are back-to-back townhouses (ie the back walls touch and there's no backyard).

    As for DPZ, I don't think they're involved in that project anymore (Markham Centre), the developers currently involved are more local. DPZ is involved in a more single family development further East though (Cornell).

    There is another similar development in a suburban area that's more built out. While the area is still pretty autocentric in nature, there is retail, offices and a Chinese community centre closeby.

    Next to it is an older development (not sure if it's subsidized housing or not) with some underground parking that looks interesting, although it's not as well covered by streetview.

    These are close to the intersection of two subway lines, in new suburban downtown of sorts. The format is denser and closer to retail (mostly along Yonge), and again they are back to back townhouses with underground parking.

    Finally there are a fair bit close to downtown Toronto

    1. Thanks again, Nicolas, for all these fantastic examples! Where is the American city which has adopted this technique, I have to wonder? It doesn't appear to be in the New Urbanist playbook.

      Speaking of which, I was curious about the DPZ Markham project, since it is listed as "substantially complete" on their website, yet I wasn't able to find anything on the ground that remotely resembled their plan. Maybe the local developers took it in a somewhat different direction?

    2. It was kind of hard to get a feel for what DPZ was planning, but they are building something along those lines in a project called Downtown Markham:
      Streetview (about 2 years old):

      Thread on the development as a whole:
      Specific projects:

      The residential components of Downtown Markham are mostly complete now, and they're starting to build the buildings with retail at grade.

      There's another massive development just to the North, across the Rouge River and South of Highway 7 called Uptown Markham that's in the proposal stage (or maybe just started construction):

      There's also some smaller projects surrounding these two big ones.

    3. Another sad anti-walking design element: the office/flex industrial buildings right behind (north of) this development -- segregated by a high (but very aesthetically pleasing) block wall. It's unfortunately all too common to see large multi-family projects walled off from surrounding shopping and employments centers -- necessitating a long walk out of the residential complex, a circuitous jog around a super-block, then another hike through the commercial center. What could be a nice stroll of a hundred yards or so invariably becomes a mile or so drive.

  5. Nicolas Derome said: "Also note that these are back-to-back townhouses (ie the back walls touch and there's no backyard"

    That's terrible! A glance at the satellite imagery proves you right. If they had just gotten rid of the ornamental front lawns, they could have instead made room for small back yards for each place, providing more windows, and a small amount of private outdoor space for each townhouse.

    1. That's a good point, Joseph. The notorious "back-to-backs" of Victorian England took an almost identical form:

      Another solution might be to have apartments on each floor, so that the living space is arranged horizontally, rather than vertically. It would also mean that you'd need only 1/4 the number of staircases.

    2. Millions of people all over the world, millions of them in North America too, get by quite nicely without backyards. Or frontyards either.

  6. You may find the following project to be of interest -- an underground parking garage is being built in Cincinnati's historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood as part of the park's redevelopment:

    1. Thanks for this! If the garage is open to residents, as it seems to be based on the description, then this sort of project is very much what I had in mind.


      The park is being reopened this friday, just in time for the World Choir Games. Are you near by? Sounds like a good weekend to visit the Queen City of the Ohio!

    3. Alas, not nearby, but would love to check this project out at some point. Thanks for letting me know!

  7. So close and yet so far away...

    The original design has some wonderful aspects. Underground shared parking, so we eliminate the whole problem of cars on the streets and garages at street level for each townhouse.

    And then....

    They blow it with a bunch of Suburban Hell crap like the streets with curbs for automobiles (what automobiles? I thought the were supposed to be underground) and of course the ubiquitous Green Space in front of each building.

    Charles' "correction" of the design, by making the streets into Really Narrow pedestrian streets, and eliminating the useless Green Space (which really isn't needed since we don't need a buffer from the now non-existent automobile traffic), is all you need to make this coulda-been-a-contender design into a potentially wonderful Traditional City neighborhood.

    1. How I'd do it is put the parking garage entrances on the outside of the development. Why allow vehicles, other than emergency or contractor vehicles in at all?

      And since I'm committing to digging a hole I'd go a little deeper and put the car lot on a lower level and put all the electricity and phone lines under the slab making them easy to access when needed. And maybe throw some moving sidewalks down there if the development was big enough that they would be a time saver for people who needed to quickly get across "town".

      Still though building on a slab means the development would be all one level. Having contours in a place adds to the charm. But how to build in ersatz hills without it being cynical and detracting from what you are doing?

  8. Could a similar design be adapted to traditional urbanism?
    Asking the question is awnsering it.

    I'm from the Netherlands, a country that has no metropolises, but as a total is very dense, so a lot of cities feel the urge to concentrate. So I can't even start pointing out projects which have underground parkings. Especially new developements in the old citycentres have basements for parking. Usually developements in the old centres are upmarked, so those people want place for at least place one car. Actually the amound of parkingplace per houshold are ruled by law (at least 1.3 I thought) so there is no escaping that.

  9. I realize that i'm over 2 years late into the thread - but anyway...

    Could a similar design be adopted to traditional urbanism?

    Except the most obvious flaw of the design - the recreational park being the focal point of all traffic to the neighborhood with all noise and pollution that car traffic generates which kind of reduces the quality of the park just a tiny bit - there are a more interesting implication on urbanity.

    Scale. That is an interesting topic that cannot be neglected. A component in making a vibrant and urban context is reducing scale. If we're talking pedestrian-urbanism Jan Gehl is the authority on the topic, and the key concept is "The human scale". Too often misunderstood as simply putting fewer lower buildings on a given piece of land. It's not at all about that. The human scale can be achieved using skyscrapers as well as a low-rise neighborhood can be designed so badly that the quality is missed.

    Traditional European cities designed long before cars - and even long before trams, railways and any other form of cheap and fast infrastructure suitable for mass transit - typically has a very small scale, independently of density. The lots are small. Every 10-20 meter there are a new building typically built by another developer. The facades are richly decorated in a fashion that can only be fully experienced in low speeds. And so forth.

    This smaller scale thinking with smaller lots, smaller development-projects and evolution over time at its center is vital to the urban context, and the effects has not yet been successfully replicated using large-scale disruptive thinking (i e one developer does a full block or even a full neighborhood). The effects include not only aesthetics, but it also seems to be vital for the mix of companies and people you find in the area. A simple explanation might be that there are more opportunities for concepts a bit "out of the box" in a context where there are 100 different landlords driven by a wide array of ideals than in context where there are just one landlord that is a global corporation driven solely by profits and excell-sheets. So this seems to have serious implication on the urban fabric.

    The conclusion of this elaboration is that it seems that large-scale projects cannot replicate the small-scale urbanism that is key to the human scale as well as for a dynamic local economy.

    Why is this relevant? Well, a large underground parking facility simply drives a need for large-scale development with one or very few involved developers. And all other typical flaws of large-scale projects like streamlined selection of service and monotonous streets with less human-scale.

    A certain level of urbanity can be achieved even in large-scale projects. There are good examples. They seem to be the exception though and they do not come even close to the urban fabric of a context developed using smaller-scale thinking.