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What to do with parkings?

5' read - published May, 13th 2022

Faced with the ecological challenges and the need to make dense cities livable, the importance of cars is questioned. Whether it is the behavior of each of us or the new political orientations, all signals are pointing in the direction of reducing the place of the car in favor of shared transportation and active modes(i).

While these trends are already there, immediate needs are changing rather slowly. The gap between the future situation and current requirements is complicated to manage for projects that are developed over the long term. This is particularly true for real estate projects. A building constructed in 2022 must be adapted to the expectations of current users and to regulatory requirements for parking, for example. And yet, it is likely that in a decade or so, these requirements will be revised downwards. Parking spaces built today could be lost tomorrow.

In this article you will discover projects from all over the world that deal with the parking issue in an innovative and agile way. To go further we explore the case of Switzerland, where the number of cars per capita is higher than the European average(1). What are the trends observed in the Swiss population concerning the individual car? What are the policy directions that shape the future?

Real estate projects to be developed over the long term: how to reconcile immediate and future needs?

Around the world, projects and services are already trying to tackle this problem of uncertainty and agility. Underground parking spaces can be converted into logistics hubs for "last mile" deliveries in the middle of the city (Millennium Chicago, Finsbury Square, Fabric) or host unexpected uses such as restaurant kitchens dedicated exclusively to delivery (Cloud Kitchens).

In addition, new buildings can be ready for the future conversion of parking spaces by not building them in the basement and already adapting the slab inclinations and ceiling heights. This is the case for 84.51°'s offices in Cincinnati, Netflix’s offices in Hollywood, and the future "Hotspot" public parking lot in Ferney-Voltaire (France).

Service companies can also be mobilized to pool parking spaces and maximize their use (JustPark, ParkJockey).

Finally, entire parking structures can be converted with a little imagination: they can be used as public spaces (BlueRainbow), hotels (Summit Hotel), co-working spaces (Peckham Levels) or even modular housing (ParkHouse).

Research projects are also being developed as part of a competition launched by Indigo. In this vein, the ambitious Pop-Up project, which combines a water reservoir, a parking lot and a public space on the same plot of land, deserves to be explored.

In its study of the Swiss real estate market in 2020, Credit Suisse points to a sharp decline in rental income from parking spaces(2). The study also notes the uncertainty of future parking needs. It is not known how many will be needed or where they will be located. Indeed, the ecological awareness of the population, the reinforcement of regulations to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the development of autonomous vehicles are reshuffling the cards. We risk not only to have less cars on the road, but also to no longer need to park our car near our home since we will be able to bring it by itself at slow speed from a distant parking lot.

However, it is still mandatory to respect the regulations in force when filing a building permit for a new project, even if this means building spaces that may become vacant and turn into a loss of money in the coming years.

Faced with these uncertainties, the best strategy for investors is to build as few parking spaces as possible, and to adopt an agile attitude regarding those that need to be built. In concrete terms, this translates into the pooling of parking spaces, their transformation and the scalability of parking lots.

Tendances sociales
Swiss citizen’s behaviour already shows a downward trend in the use of private cars

Swiss people aged 18 to 24 are getting fewer and fewer driving licenses. In 1994, three quarters of young people had a driver's license, compared to only 60% in 2015(3) , the year of the last federal mobility study. On the other hand, the proportion of the population with a public transport pass is increasing. In ten years, this proportion has risen from 40% (2005) to 50% (2015)(3) for train passes alone. With fewer licenses among young people, and more public transport subscriptions in the population, the private car is slowly losing ground.

This trend is also observed in the number of Swiss households with at least one car. Although this number remains rather stable at around 80%, the downward trend observed since 2005 is confirmed. Indeed, between 1994 and 2005 the number of households owning at least one car started by increasing, but then continuously decreased in the 2010 and 2015 surveys. These variations are minimal, of the order of three points over ten years, but the trend continues(3).

Moreover, the collective opinion of citizens is also mainly in disfavor of the private car. For example, in a municipal vote in 2021, the people of Geneva decided to reject the construction of a new parking garage in the city center with two-thirds of the votes against this project(4).

Urban planners rethink parking

For a decade now, urban planners have agreed that parking spaces are an inefficient use of land. We have collectively built too many parking spaces and underused them(5). This dual problem is linked to urban planning through the single-use zoning approach, which builds the city on the assumption that each human activity needs a dedicated space. By planning single-use zones, it is impossible to share parking spaces, and they must be built in large quantities, since the population moves from one zone to another by car. We therefore have too many parking spaces in some places, and they are underused.

While planners are challenging single-function zoning, they are also changing practices regarding minimum parking requirements. It has been observed that requiring a minimum number of parking spaces increases the use of individual motorized transport, and thus traffic, and decreases the density of the city(5). These three elements are exactly the opposite of what European cities are seeking to do in 2022 when it comes to urban planning, since the aim is to increase density and reduce car traffic.


According to what is emerging in the research world, the new parking regulations could move towards a total or partial deregulation of the market: they would stop setting a minimum requirement, while sometimes giving a maximum allowed. The market would then be responsible for estimating the number of parking spaces needed in a given real estate project. Regulations concerning tandem parking (one car behind the other), valet parking and automated parking could also be introduced(5).

Tendances professionnelles

Companies specializing in parking management, such as Indigo and Q-Park, are also looking at the future of their properties. Indigo has been working on the subject of "Parking of the future" with the Dominique Perrault Architecture office. The conclusions of their reflection are presented in the video below.

A clear political will to accompany and accelerate the reduction of car’s modal share(ii)

Just as the attitudes of planners are changing, the political objectives of cities regarding mobility are also moving in the direction of a reduction in the car's share. Let us take a quick look at the public policies adopted in some cities in French-speaking Switzerland.

In its 2016-2021 legislative program, the city of Lausanne announced that it wanted to give "priority to public transport and soft mobility". In the current legislative program, it speaks of moving "towards active and peaceful mobility". In February 2022, three resolutions were voted by the city council to limit the presence of SUVs in the city. The city of Lausanne will organize an information campaign on the danger that SUVs represent for other users, and will differentiate the price of parking badges according to the size of the vehicle(6).

Geneva is not to be outdone, the 2020-2025 program of the current administrative council aims to "support and encourage soft mobility and the use of public transport" and "drastically reduce parking spaces on the private domain of the city of Geneva, with a view to creating urban forests".

Vevey opts for slightly less frontal orientations in its 2016-2021 program: the aim is to have fewer cars in the old town, to make public transport more attractive and to update the parking strategy. This is also the case in Yverdon-les-Bains, which has developed a parking master plan and installed retractable bollards around its city center.

It should be noted here that while restrictive parking policies are mainly focused on city centers, in the future they could also affect suburban areas. Some researchers are already pointing to a blind spot in parking studies on this topic(7). It is likely that once the university takes up this issue, professional habits and political ambitions will follow.

Tendances politiques

(i) Public transport, shared cars, shared bikes and scooters, individual electric or classic bikes, walking...

(ii) Modal share: the proportion of people using a given mode of transport in relation to the total number of people travelling.

(1) Source: RTS, Plus de 4.5 millions de voitures sont immatriculées en Suisse, December, 10th 2018.

(2) Source: Crédit Suisse, Un cycle sans fin - Marché immobilier suisse 2020, March 2020.

(3) Source: Federal Statistical office, Comportement de la population en matière de transports, 2017.

(4) Source: Tribune de Genève, Les habitants de la ville enterrent le parking Clé-de-Rive, March, 7th 2021.

(5) Source: Access magazine n°43, Parking reform made easy, 2013.

(6) Source: 24heures, Lausanne déclare la guerre aux SUV, 2022.

(7) Source: Journal of transport Geography vol.98, Parking in inner versus outer city spaces: Spatiotemporal patterns of parking problems and their associations with built environment features in Brisbane, Australia, 2022.

Notes et sources
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