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The case for above-grade parking

This is an oversimplification that won’t apply to all markets, but typically the decision tree for urban parking looks something like this:

  • Do I need to build parking?
  • If no, great. That’s ideal!
  • If yes, how many levels of below-grade will I need?
  • If below-grade parking doesn’t work because it’s either too expensive or because the soil is bad, try above-grade parking.
  • And if above grade, how can I “wrap it” with occupiable space or, at the very least, treat it in such a way that it doesn’t look ugly and the city doesn’t get mad at me?

What I’m getting at with this is that above-grade parking is generally frowned upon. It is done in lots of places, like in Miami where you can’t go underground, but if you ask your average urbanist they will probably tell you that above-grade parking is ugly and that said ugliness should be mitigated to the fullest extent possible.

But here’s a counter argument. Let’s assume that we believe any one of the following:

  • We should design new buildings to be adaptable (i.e. easily convertible to other uses in the future)
  • We should design and build in a way that reduces carbon to a minimum
  • Lower construction costs are good for end-users of space
  • In the future, people will be less, as opposed to more, reliant on privately owned cars

In this case, the ideal solution is actually “unwrapped” above-grade parking. It’s less intensive to build, and both below-grade parking and wrapped above-grade parking result in large windowless spaces with very little utility other than for storing inanimate objects. Your options are parking, self-storage, and maybe a large gym for people who don’t like natural light.

Judging by the above poll, which was still in progress at the time of writing this post, this is not how most people think about urban parking. But I think it’s time we start changing the discussion.


  1. I am a developer focused on revitalizing – “Whalley” now part of the new Surrey City Centre for the last 16 years and have completed six buildings consisting of 756 residential units plus five commercial units.
    All our buildings are approx. eight minutes walking distance from Skytrain station, yet the City insists on using old standards for parking calculations simply because they are concerned about the new residents parking on the nearby streets.
    But this is so wrong because most of our current buildings’ underground parking has more than 30% vacancy. This will increase because a lot of new residents buy into the area because of its affordable and proximity to the Skytrain.
    Questions, what are the strata going to do with many of the vacant parking stalls?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Greg Shron

    Big challenge is the incremental cost inherent in designing and building above-grade parking today so that the structural shell is suitable for future adaptive re-use. How do you justify that in a development pro forma? Can’t think of a single example where it’s been done.


  3. Christopher Dunn

    I sat through the City of Toronto’s presentation on EV charging requirements for new residential construction recently, it was all presented as part of their climate change objectives. But, I couldn’t help thinking why is the city bending over backwards to accommodate 4000 lbs EVs but takes the opposite position on 40 lbs escooters (illegal in Toronto) and ebikes (no charging facilities required or provided anywhere). Never mind that the condition of roads in Toronto will knock the teeth out of any micromobility rider, probably because we prioritize our roads for 4000 lbs single occupant vehicles that pound our roads. We can do so much better by just getting out of our way.


  4. Pingback: Buildings are carbon icebergs – BRANDON DONNELLY

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