If someone told you there were vast tracts of land in America built for commerce but sitting largely unused, what would you picture? Would you picture a post-boom steel manufacturing town, its mills now shuttered? Would it call to mind the urban decay of Detroit in the late 20th Century, or the de-industrialized rust belt cities of the Northeast?
Maybe – but that’s not the topic of discussion in this post. This article explores another sizeable area of untapped economic potential: the parking lot. And, unlike the examples mentioned above, American parking lots take up much more space.
Is it possible to reimagine the parking lot, to make it something forward-thinking, functional and community-oriented? The short answer is: yes.
Here’s the long answer.
How Parking Lots Dominated the Landscape
You can trace the rise of parking lots in America back to the mid-1950s when several cities began pushing an experimental initiative called “minimum parking requirements.” Essentially, these were zoning code mandates that required developers to build on-site parking for all properties (the thinking was that parking lots would help curb traffic congestion).
The mandates may have eased traffic congestion (for a short time), but they ushered in a new problem. As car ownership declined and cities grew taller, these once-mandatory lots started sticking out like sore thumbs. They are unused, open spaces right in the middle of urban centers.
A Sticking Point for CRE Owners
Commercial real estate owners have long seen these empty spaces as a problem. After all, CRE owners pay handsomely for their commercial property and want to extract passive income where they can. In addition to the lost revenue potential, unused parking lots also cost a lot to maintain and can detract from a property’s overall aesthetical value.
And the issue isn’t lost on community members either. Parking lots consume an inordinate amount of space in urban centers, which affects walkability, proximity to necessities and the potential for central communal activities.
So, how do communities and CRE owners fix the problem?
Reimagining the Parking Lot
There is hope for communities, CRE owners and parking customers.
In 2013, a company called REEF launched a business to make better use of parking lots. In addition to offering tech-forward parking lot solutions to CRE owners, REEF brings new, modular applications like delivery kitchens, micro-healthcare clinics and other businesses to parking lots. In doing so, they have turned these once empty spaces into thriving hubs – centers of commercial and communal activity that benefit owners and community members. Owners can outsource the daily operational aspects of their parking facility to tech-proficient experts. They can even earn passive income by activating new applications on empty spots—and give the community greater access to new goods and services.
Parking lots have a checkered past in recent American history – from necessities to unused spaces. But, thanks to forward-thinking companies reimagining the potential of these once-valued urban spaces, it looks like parking lots might enjoy a new life yet again.
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