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Parking Today: See How These Cities Used Parking to Reinforce "Urban Identity"

Original Source:  "Using Parking to Reinforce "Urban Identity": See How These Cities Did It" by Michael Pendergrass, AIA and Matt Davis, Parksmart Advisor, for Parking Today

Image for Parking Today: See How These Cities Used Parking to Reinforce "Urban Identity" Lot S/L Parking Structure in the city of Palo Alto, California, features public art and colorful signage to express the city's character

More and more, cities are looking to reinvent themselves by revitalizing their urban cores. Finding a balance between generating needed growth while also preserving and elevating a city’s identity can pose a challenge. 

So what is a crucial first step towards creating a vibrant community? Well-integrated parking! Efficient parking not only creates vital accessibility, but also provides opportunity to celebrate identity and create an experience while maximizing potential. By approaching parking as an integrated, vital part of the community, it is no longer an isolated component but an active contributor to a greater whole.  See which parking best practices these cities are using to stimulate a thriving downtown core.

Blend In

As communities take measures to reshape downtowns, there is a strong desire to preserve and celebrate the identities that make them unique. This mindset extends to parking. By making a parking structure part of the community rather than a nondescript facility that stands out for the wrong reasons, cities can create an arrival experience for visitors. When the city of Santa Clarita, CA set out to revitalize its downtown as a dynamic arts and entertainment district, officials envisioned a parking structure to support it that would blend with the context of the downtown environment. The solution? A Main Street style façade incorporating faux retail store fronts and historical downtown detailing that reflects the adjacent 271-acre Old Town Newhall mixed-use development. To create further value for the community, the parking structure is being designed to feature space for special events on the top level.

In central downtown Santa Barbara, CA, the Mission Revival architectural style found throughout the area creates high level standards of design. When a parking structure was needed to support the Granada Theater, Courthouse and retail and restaurants, the design needed to capture that distinct regional style. The resulting Granada Garage is a treasure trove of architectural detailing and craftsmanship from scalloped parapets and terra cotta vases to wrought iron work and ornate signage that includes a Bike Station sign suspended from a pomegranate.

Image of Parking Today: See How These Cities Used Parking to Reinforce "Urban Identity" The Plaza Escuela parking structure in Walnut Creek, California, integrates parking above and alongside retail, which generates activity at the street level

Mix Things Up

A mixed-use parking structure such as the one found at Plaza Escuela in the city of Walnut Creek, CA is another way to integrate a parking structure in a growing downtown that is seeking to get the most out of its real estate. The Plaza Escuela structure integrates parking above and beside retail space, which generates activity at the street level and creates a destination that will improve the quality of the parking experience for all users. The city of Mountain View, CA also took advantage of this best practice by including 12,000 square feet of retail space at street level with a pedestrian path that connects the structure to Castro Street, the City’s main downtown shopping and dining area.

Location, Location, Location

Simply having adequate parking in a downtown core isn’t enough – it has to be convenient and accessible. The city of Brea, CA discovered this when studies showed that while the parking supply in the downtown area was adequate, two existing parking structures were severely underutilized due to their obscure locations. 

Therefore, the city chose to relocate structured parking to a prominent site in the heart of their entertainment district. Not only will the facility be easier to find and much more convenient for visitors to the Superblock, but a parking guidance system included in the design will tie into a centralized system that notifies drivers of the amount of public parking available in all three structures. With the addition of the garage, the popular Improv comedy club on Birch Street is expanding its location and adding two new restaurants.

In addition to making downtown parking easy to find, it needs to be easy to navigate. Forget the idea that parking structures are drab necessities. Colorful signage and informational kiosks not only help orient visitors and aid them in getting to their destination and returning to their vehicle, but it’s a chance to express a city’s character. Visitors to the city of Palo Alto, CA, Lot SL parking structure can remember where they parked by the bold colors marking each level, paired with artwork of birds that can be seen from the street via glass backed elevators.

Image of Parking Today: See How These Cities Used Parking to Reinforce "Urban Identity" Public art at the parking structure and Metro Gold Line train station in the city of Monrovia, California

Express Yourself

Downtown parking structures serve as an arrival experience. So why not take the opportunity to celebrate community identity? Many urban parking structures include a component of public art, whether by engaging local artists in a competition as done for the 5th Street Parking Structure in Napa, CA, or by preserving an existing work of art such as the Summer Solstice Murals that were moved from West Anapamu Street to the back of the Granada Garage along a pedestrian paseo. 

When the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension was constructed through Arcadia, Monrovia, Irwindale and Azusa, each city coordinated with an artist to reflect its character at its respective station and parking structure. From molding ceramic tile out of existing tile at an adjacent historic depot in Monrovia to handmade LithoMosaic pavers inspired by Irwindale’s history as the Jardin de la Roca, each city used public art to express itself to visitors at the moment of both their arrival and their departure.    

All parking structures should incorporate best practices concerning security, modal conflicts, sustainability, parking management, etc. However, downtown parking structures face a unique set of criteria and challenges. By implementing these best practices, parking can not only support, but also create opportunities for urban reinvention.

Michael Pendergrass, AIA is an Associate Principal with Watry Design, Inc. He can be reached at Contact Matt Davis, an Associate Principal with the firm, at Both are Parksmart Advisors. 

About the Authors

Michael Pendergrass, AIA, a licensed architect in 9 states, has over 15 years of experience in delivering parking solutions and over 20 in the industry. He has worked on a wide variety of parking projects. In addition to delivering projects to satisfied clients, Michael’s projects, such as the San Diego International Airport Terminal 2 Parking Plaza, have received recognition from the International Parking & Mobility Institute and other organizations. 

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Matt Davis has been creating parking solutions for over 20 years. He has worked on over 125 parking projects and is a certified Parksmart Advisor. In addition to delivering projects to satisfied clients, Matt’s projects, such as the Tustin Metrolink Station Parking Structure and UC San Diego Osler Parking Structure and Visitor's Center, have received recognition from the International Parking Institute and other associations. An active participant in the International Parking & Mobility Institute and the Pacific Intermountain Parking & Transportation Association, Matt has penned and spoken on a number of industry topics, such as Healthcare Parking as the First Line of Customer Service, Green Parking, Transit Parking Best Practices, the Future of Parking, Protecting Your Parking Investment and Right Sizing Parking.

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