Could Vacant Parking Lots Offer An Alternative Urban Living Environment?

The latest figures show that 54% of the global population (approx. 7.2 billion people) are living in the cities.The 2014 World Urbanization Prospects report by the United Nations …

The latest figures show that 54% of the global population (approx. 7.2 billion people) are living in the cities.The 2014 World Urbanization Prospects report by the United Nations predicts that by the year 2050, it will further amass to 66% of a predicted 9.6 billon. 

In a century of global urbanization more people are choosing to live in the cities than ever before, but they are coming across a recurring problem in the concrete jungle.

Although ‘Millennials’ (the 18-35 demographic) are desperate to head to the bright lights, a lack of affordable apartments is their greatest problem, and many young urbanites are now getting priced out of their own cities.

The overarching demand for metropolitan living, has increased with changing lifestyle choices, economic circumstances and housing shortages, and has left many young professionals seeking a more affordable option.

As a result, the micro apartment was born – a resourceful new trend in US real estate and a seemingly affordable solution.

Through optimizing use of space, and enabling buyers to live in prime locations (without breaking the bank), these ultra-small living spaces are appearing throughout the major cities and becoming a growing phenomenon.

Proving to be extremely popular in the US property market, the 2014 Los Angeles Dwell on Design conference even showcased a variety of homewares specifically tailored to small-scale living,

The rise in this compact style has seen an influx of repurposed buildings and spaces, from disused warehouses to abandoned shopping malls to the more unconventional option of a shipping container.

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With ‘at least 105 million and maybe as many as 2 billion parking spaces in the United States’, in some cities they make up over a third of the metropolis, yet approximately 50% are underused.

Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of urban planning at M.I.T and author of “Rethinking A Lot” sees parking lots as an overlooked, often ignored part of the modern urban landscape, with multipurpose potential and describing them as “ripe for transformation”, asking:

‘Can’t parking lots be aesthetically pleasing, environmentally and architecturally responsible? Used for something other than car storage?’

With the slogan ‘small space, big idea’, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Georgia, have come up with a viable answer to that very question – the SCADpad.

Christian Sottile, Dean of SCAD, describes the motivation behind the SCADpad initiative: “to consider ‘the future of cities and urban housing” and provide a unique resolution to the emerging housing problems across the globe.

Driven by 75 students, 12 members of staff and 37 alumni they incorporated art and technology fusing them with functional living space, producing a micro home the size of a standard car parking space.

The minute apartment prototypes, aptly named SCADpads comprise of a simple wooden structure on wheels at just 2.5 x 4.8 m (8 x 16 ft), offering a ‘unique solution to the growing urban housing challenges in cities’.

Through focusing on efficiency and sustainability, they turn the asphalt wasteland into a ‘micro-community’ with an organic ‘garden space that’s fed by graywater, a waste management system’.

“The core of the motivation is considering the future of cities, urban housing and new possibilities”

The journey from the drawing board to reality, took a total of 10 months, with each valued between $40,000 – $60,000, they are fully equipped with all the latest mod cons – iPad, smart glass, and LED ceilings.

However the SCADpad concept is an exaggerated ideal in its primordial stages. Given the arts background of the university each pad exudes a sense of whimsicality and eccentricity rather than practicality.

Despite the acclaim and excessive popularity rendering property developers unable to supply the demand for the micro-units, not everyone is on board. The compact communities have also been criticized in terms of potential social and ethical issues, and worries about overpopulation amid claims of health risks.

However, Sarah Watson, deputy director of Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC), believes ‘Cities need to move beyond old-fashioned ideas of what they think people need, and look into alternatives’ placing ‘micro-units’ at the vanguard of modern living.

Whatever the controversies, what is certain is that our over-populated cities need more affordable housing. The SCADpad may be a prototype…but the vision of its architects is looking clear into the future.


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