Should all parking be easily convertible to something else?

Yesterday, I suggested an alternative to minimum parking requirements: requiring a certain amount of space in a building site be convertible to parking. I wondered if this could help wean cautious municipalities away from excessive minimum parking requirements.

That prompted me to speculate about the CONVERSE.  Should we require that parking be easily and cheaply convertible to something else? 

Could the parking levels in this condo easily be converted to other uses if car ownership drops in the future?

How could it work? 

Maybe an addition to building codes could require developers to submit a plan explaining the renovation steps that would convert the parking to general floor space. A cost estimate for these steps  would need to be below some reasonable threshold.

But why bother?

The idea is to reduce the extent to which the parking supply is locked into the landscape. This could be very important in places without much surface parking, such as many parts of many Asian cities where most parking is within buildings (in basements or parking floors above ground) and sometimes in stand-alone structures. Some of these cities are currently requiring 2 or more car parking spaces per 100 square metres of built space. Are we sure they will need that much for the lifetimes of those buildings?

If you live in a city where most parking is surface parking then you may not see an issue here. However, some layouts of surface parking relative to buildings would be easier to build on than others.

Making parking space easier to convert would be prudent if there is a good chance of a significant drop in demand within the next decade or two. An epidemic of Shoupista reforms could do that? So might peak oil or serious climate change policy action. Pedestrianization of city-centre streets can also leave parking facilities stranded, so car parks in such locations would be good candidates to be designed for easy conversion.  

How much would this add to the initial cost of a parking facility? I am not sure.

If the extra costs are relatively low but the chances of a big drop in parking demand seem high enough within a short enough time horizon, then requiring convertibility might be a good idea. I haven't done any such calculations yet but it seems like something worth thinking about.

Does the real estate industry currently foresee a big risk that today's parking supply may end up being surplus to requirements? I don't think so. What would it take for such a risk to prompt voluntary efforts to design parking for convertibility? What would it take for parking convertibility to be a selling point for buildings?

Has anyone heard of examples anywhere in the world?

I know that  a few years ago several shopping centres in Singapore did convert some of their basement parking into retail space. Junction 8 in Bishan is one example, I am told. This came after Singapore lowered its minimum parking requirements. Owners of existing buildings are allowed to reduce their  parking if it is in excess of the new standard. I don't know how challenging these Singapore conversions were or how expensive. Maybe this suggests that conversion is already relatively easy?



  1. The St. Petersburg College Downtown Center apparently used to be a two-story garage that was supposedly converted a few years ago into a four-story office/museum/theatre/student building. Details are a bit sketchy, tho.

  2. in most of Rome's buildings, garages have been turned into supermarkets, gyms, doctors' cabinets, discos. A few examples: (the ramp leads to a gym) (a supermarket) (a gym) (car repair) (brico center)

    And here is another example in Lausanne: a parking garage turned into a supermarket.

  3. I am curious about the Rome examples you highlight,

    From your own blog post at it looks like these may NOT be officially sanctioned. So they may be examples of required parking space that has been diverted to other uses. That's interesting! If true, it would make them similar to cases (in South Asia mostly) that I have highlighted at posts under the label "requirements violations":

    I also agree with your blog post that enforcement is probably strong in Switzerland, so we can guess that the Lausanne example probably was officially allowed.

    Thanks very much for the tip.

  4. That's true: in Rome, violations in building codes are rarely sanctioned. Moreover, the property structure of most buildings (each apartment belongs to a different owner) makes demolitions or surelevations nearly impossible, so the only way to make room for more valuable uses is repurposing the existing spaces: apartments become offices, garages become supermarkets or gyms...

    It's definitely something similar to asian cities!

    In Switzerland, procedures are quite different: laws are strictly enforced, but exception can be negotiated with the city authorities. So, in order to transform a parking space into something else, one must provide a "mobility plan", proving that accessibility can be provided in other ways (public transport, car sharing etc.) Anyway, in most cases, since most buildings belong to a single owner, and requirements for the new use (insulation, pollution etc...) are quite strict too, bulldozing and rebuilding is a better option than just repurposing.

    Best Regards,


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