Parking spaces reimagined as greenspace, housing developments

Cities from coast to coast are either removing surface level parking lots or discussing the idea. It's part of a movement that will affect everyone, regardless of where you live.

Reclaiming surface lots a development trend across Canada

Across Canada, many surface parking lots are being redeveloped. (Getty Images)

If you think there isn't enough parking now, prepare for things to get even tighter.

Cities from coast to coast are either removing surface level parking lots or discussing the idea. It's part of a movement that will affect everyone, regardless of where you live.

When Joni Mitchell wrote the hit song Big Yellow Taxi in 1970, she was referring to a trend in Canada and the United States in which cities were being built around the car, and greenspace was bulldozed to create surface level parking lots.

Jeff Casello is a professor of transportation at the University of Waterloo, he said now the reverse is happening in Canada.

With core-area parking lots sitting virtually unused outside of working hours, the value of the land is being reassessed. 

"When you think about how valuable land is becoming in the urban cores, it's a pretty poor use of our land spaces," he said. "So reducing surface parking is something I think that we've been talking about for decades now, and it's great to see this actually happening in practice."

Changes are slowly being made in various cities across the country. In Halifax, there is provincial support to remove dozens of parking spots near Dalhousie University and install a protected bike lane. In Toronto, a large surface-level lot right downtown is being redeveloped. In Winnipeg there continues to be discussions about using some lots for housing,  while in Edmonton, a complete revival of the downtown core is underway and surface lots aren't necessarily part of the plan.

A man relaxes in a hammock in downtown St. Joseph, Michigan, for Park(ing) Day, an annual international event that converts parking spaces in downtown areas into public art spaces. (The Associated Press/Don Campbell)
Casello said it's not just the largest cities in the country making these decisions, either. He explained an initiative in Sudbury that saw a parking lot turned into greenspace.

"I think that there's evidence that cities of all sizes are looking to do something with the land in the urban core other than just parking whether it's greenspace or development."

Casello acknowledged that not everyone is a fan of this trend, because we've been accustomed to using cars to get around for more than 50 years.

However, he said it's essential that we make the shift even if there are growing pains because it will put more pressure on governments to provide better alternatives like public transportation or bike lanes.

He also said that decisions on surface level parking lots in cities affect every Canadian, no matter where you live.

"The way in which we manage our cities is incredibly important to the overall economy of Canada," he explained.

"So if we are doing better in our urban areas  if we are able to attract better skilled workers, if we are able to attract global companies to our cities by changing the dynamic of our cities, then everyone benefits."

In order to maximize that benefit, Casello would like to also see parking pricing structures change. He said most lots give you a better deal if you park longer, when in fact it should be the reverse.

"What we have to do is when we think about changing the supply of parking, we also have to think about changing the pricing of parking," he said.

The changes Casello is proposing would encourage people who live in rural areas to come into city centres and spend money, but would discourage using cars for longer periods, which he says takes up too much valuable space.