Making Room for People Rather Than Cars

We talk a lot on this blog about the way that government policy can help to create livable streets. But we don’t often discuss the role that individual property owners can play when they’re inspired to create a more pedestrian-friendly space.

374__663x500_img_1951.jpgThe owner of this property in Miami has decided to convert a parking lot to a terrace.

Today’s post, from Streetsblog Network member Urban City Architecture, gives an example of how — by converting a small parking lot to a terrace — one business owner in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood is contributing to an increasingly vital streetscape:

It seems that recent development and new emphasis on the pedestrian landscape has encouraged a property owner in Brickell to replace a small surface (parking) lot in front of a building with more pedestrian-oriented and occupiable urban space fronting the sidewalk instead. Over the last couple of months, workers have been busy transforming the old parking spaces into an elevated outdoor seating space for what I presume will be a restaurant (or expansion of the existing restaurant next door).

In essence, the integration of the building within the urban fabric has been reconfigured to make it more responsive to pedestrians and more fitting with its surroundings. Prior to these changes, the building’s parking layout served as a physical and visual barrier between the pedestrian and the building. Much in the same way that buildings are setback behind inhospitable and unwalkable parking in the suburbs — pedestrians walking the streets were not greeted by a building facade or window but rather by a long row of car exhausts and vehicle bumpers that contribute nothing to the urban atmosphere.

Luckily, the transformation of the space will change this unfavorable dynamic and create a more lively and active environment on the streets.

It’s part of a process that the post’s author, Adam Mizrahi, likes to call "automobile attrition." And it’s an intriguing example of how, when a neighborhood achieves some livable streets momentum, the dead space created by cars and parking becomes more apparent.

More from around the network: Newton Streets and Sidewalks talks about how more roads don’t ease congestion; Urban Milwaukee has a personal story about how senior citizens can get shut out of walkable neighborhoods; and The Infrastructurist looks at why Hawaii got complete streets legislation and Missouri didn’t.

  • Anabel Lopez

    Brickell has changed by leaps and bounds in the last few years. Its nice to see that not only developers and government are taking action to make more walkable streets — but small property owners are also converting their properties as well. Sounds like a move in the right direction.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Way back in the 1980s, New York City’s zoning banned front yard parking in most zones, although enforcement is far from universal. This is something the local communities (if not all individual property owners) wanted.

    Parking must (theoretically) be either in the “side lot ribbon,” a driveway long the side lot line, within the building, or in the rear yard.

    In many zones the front yard rules were modified to bring buildings closer to the street, eliminating the possibility of a parking pad in the front yard. (Some folks just park partially in the yard, and partially on the sidewalk, however).

    And a limitation was put in place on the amount of total curb cuts, in some cases with a minimum of 34 feet required between them, to preserve on-street parking for the neighborhood. New buildings on small lots continued to allowed to waive parking altogether.

    The largest building constructed in my neighborhood since the new rules, however, simply ignored them, filing one set to building plans and building something else. When I reported it, they probably just went to the BSA, told the “seven lies” as the seven findings for a variance are called in the land use law trade, and got legalized. It is on 17th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues in Brooklyn.

    It would make a photo opposite to this one. In theory 34 feet between curb cuts is required, and no front yard parking is permitted. The zoning also required that the new building line up with those on either side, but it doesn’t, because that would have left no room for front yard parking.

    The legal parking would have been a common space in the basement, something the sloping street facilitated, and was actually done in new buildings in more affluent Park Slope.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Oh, one more point. When I called the developer after the plywood came down and the parking solution was revealed (the building looks pretty good above the ground floor) his response was “what’s the big deal, it’s Brooklyn.” Ugh.

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