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A new ULI report chronicles the depaving of America
Building Design + Construction
Arlington Heights, Illinois, USA
Media, Architecture, Construction
John Caulfield
Date Published: 
CIties, Urban Design, Depaving, Parking Lots, Parks, Landscape
Tapestry Statistics:
2020-06-19 22:11:11
2020-06-19 22:22:04
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Cooper's Ferry Partnership
Fifteen examples of how parks and green spaces emerged from parking lots, garages, and underpasses.

Afew years ago, in his book “Parking and the City,” Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, estimated that there were eight parking spaces for every vehicle that was on the road in the U.S.

Other research also shows that one in three Americans doesn’t have a park within a 10-minute walk from his or her home.

With the number of automobile registrations down, and with ride-sharing continuing to gain customers—Uber fulfills more than 40 million rides per month in the U.S.; Lyft’s domestic ridership rose from 3.5 million in the first quarter of 2016 to 21.2 million in the first quarter of 2020—American cities “are rethinking the primacy of the car and are created parks on land once dedicated to the automobile, including former parking lots and roadways, parking garages, and spaces underneath highway overpasses.”

That’s from “Pavements to Parks,” a new report published by the Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative. The report provides conversion case studies on 15 projects and four municipal programs. ULI collaborated with 10 Minute Walk, a movement dedicated to improving access to safe, high-quality parks and green spaces in the U.S. That organization’s goal is to create a world in which, by 2050, all people live within a short walk of a park or green space.


Transforming space designed for vehicles to public-use space has had its successes. For example, over 24,000 miles of railroad tracks have been converted to walking trails. The ULI report states that trail advocates announced in the spring of 2019 an initiative to create a coast-to-coast recreational trail, which would connect more than 125 existing trails nationwide.

The coronavirus outbreak has contributed to this pavement-to-parks trend, states ULI, by underscoring the importance of abundant and safe parks. “To provide space for physically distanced recreation, dining, and transportation, many cities are temporarily or permanently closing streets, parking lots, and other public infrastructure assets.”

Paved parking lots and roadways are also being reexamined for their impact on human and environmental health, especially how stormwater runoff picks up contaminants that end up in waterways.

The impetus behind park transformation can emanate from many sources, like the organic community engagement that helped create Chicano Park, a national landmark in San Diego; the drive of a visionary leader as at Norman B. Leventhal Park in Boston’s Financial District; or the determination of a city planning department as in Dutch Kills Green and the Queensboro Bridge Greenway in Queens, N.Y. “Regardless of the spark, the ability to look at an automobile-oriented place and see the possibilities for a greener, healthier, and more sustainable future is essential,” ULI states.

Collaboration in these endeavors is key. The report points to the birth of Roosevelt Plaza Park in Camden, N.J., which required leadership from the city and the redevelopment authority, as well as ongoing leadership from Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, a private nonprofit redevelopment corporation. “When many stakeholders are involved, it is important for partners’ unique expertise and priorities to be understood and respected,” says ULI.

Roosevelt Plaza Park replaced a building that included a parking garage, office space, and ground-floor retail. The building was condemned in 2003 and demolished eight years later. The space—which is located at the front door of City Hall—was reopened as a plaza in 2012.

The Camden Redevelopment Agency constructed the 1.5-acre park with Cooper’s Ferry Partnership. Two years later, a series of pop-up and semi-permanent installations and rotating programming created a flexible changeable model to attract parkgoers. And a partnership of Camden stakeholders stepped in to ensure that its ongoing programing would make it a safe and welcoming space for all residents.

Group Melvin Design and Sikora Wells Appel were the designers on this $9 million project.


Data collection was essential in the case of Philadelphia’s Porch at 30th Street, where project developers had to come up with a variety of programming to engage new stakeholde

Organizations Mentioned: (4)
Group Melvin Design
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Planning, Urban Design
Sikora Wells Appel
Haddonfield, New Jersey, USA
Landscape Architecture
UCLA | University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California, USA
Higher Education
ULI | Urban Land Institute
Washington, DC, USA