Car parks – an urban phenomenon

We’ve all been there: the devastating hunt for a parking spot when returning home from work in the evening. Driving in circles, starting and stopping the car, and then when we’ve finally found a promising space the vehicle just doesn’t want to fit. Experiences like these seem to be inevitable in the urban environment. Today, all major cities have been motorised – some to greater others to lesser extent. This puts cities at a huge day-to-day challenge: where to put all the cars when they’re not in use? To this relatively old problem a general solution was found quickly: the car park. But where and when did it all start, how did the car park develop over the years and why is it so important to find new solutions? In the following, blog.alphabet.com tries to answer these questions.

The impact of car parks

In the UK, for instance, studies show that on average a car is used for one hour per day.[1] This means, cars spend 90% of the time standing around wasting urban space that could be used for other things such as recreational activities. In the 1920s, there were 23 million cars on American roads (by far the highest number in the world) and thus parking quickly became a problem.[2] The motorisation of cities like New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago lead to the development of buildings and areas designated for temporary “storage” of personal vehicles. With less and less space available, the car park quickly became a multi-story affair using space that was left in height rather than wasting precious space left on the ground. By the 1950s, the car park had established itself in nearly all Western countries. The reason was that the car park allowed shoppers and workers to spend time and money in the commercial centres of the city whilst having their car with them.

Today, there are more than 735 million cars in the world.[3] Parking has become an absolute necessity especially when considering the low usage of cars as well the general trend towards urbanisation. Hand in hand with the steadily rising demand for parking space, new solutions have been implemented to improve the car park. The most promising of them all is the automated, computer-based car park already present in some German cities such as Berlin and Hamburg.[4] It looks as follows: you drive into a single garage, which is the entrance of a huge building. You get out, receive a number and the door shuts – your car is parked. While you walk away the garage with your car in it is displaced within the building, controlled by an automatic-based computer system. When you return you simply put in your number on a screen and an elevator brings your car back. This system has two main advantages: firstly, the car park will be smaller and hence use less space because cars won’t need to drive around in it. Thus, no roads or ramps are required. Secondly, the automated system is more environmentally friendly for the very reason that no driving occurs inside the building. Furthermore, these car parks can also be build underneath the soil – the robot doesn’t care whether your car is above or below you.

Changing the way we live

Imagine then that all cars would be stored away by such a system. There would be hardly any cars parked at the side of the roads, right? Governments could turn the gained space into a safer and better biking infrastructure to cut down on greenhouse gases. Otherwise the space could be used by citizens for recreational activities. The impact of such a solution would be enormous and it furthermore shows how big of an issue parking is in our daily life. Still this doesn’t make the search for a spot any more fun.

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