While exploring St. Paul and Minneapolis during the SIA, parking garages seemed to be everywhere. For some reason I was struck by the variety of structures: minimal concrete to elaborate garages with building facades. Take a look.
Those above are more of your typical garage structure, though the curved ramp seemed a bit unusual. However, St. Paul has a few garages that bring it from parking structure to parking building, if you will.
And then there’s this one:
This is obviously the star parking garage in terms of welcoming people and complementing the streetscape.
Listen to this NPR story about parking garages*, which states that “of all the American structures, few are so unlovable as parking garages.” It’s from 2009, when the National Building Museum had an exhibit called “House of Cars” on the parking garage.
Just a few tidbits from the story: There’s no exact beginning or inventor of the parking garage, but it was definitely a necessary structure. Early garages did look more like buildings (like the great example from St. Paul). You’ll hear that the open parking garages are from the mid 20th century. Early parking garages used elevators, and early garages were valet parked. Some had floors just for women so they felt safe. During the Cold War, you could get federal funding if your parking garage included a bomb shelter.
Thankfully, others are intrigued by parking garages, too. Read about parking garages in Chicago, And there is a book titled The Parking Garage: Design and Evolution of a Modern Urban Form by Shannon S. McDonald. More parking + garage history from the National Building Museum.
Now, what type of parking garage do you prefer? The open level type or those disguised to look like buildings with retail and services on the ground floor?
Do you like parking garages? Some can feel dark and damp, which make most people feel unsafe. Then again, parking lots can feel unsafe, too. Parking garages take up far less land than parking lots, thereby consuming less of the streetscape, hopefully preventing that urban wasteland feel. When designed to blend with the streetscape,however large or small, parking garages seem like they could solve many of our land-use and parking problems. That assumes that people will walk a bit rather than parking in front of the store, whether a strip mall or a downtown store. What do you think?
*Even if you’re not a NPR listener, give the parking garage story a chance. It’s fascinating and only five minutes long. Enjoy!