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In LA, land dedicated to parking is larger than Manhattan

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A new study asks: What if that space was used for housing instead?

Countywide, parking lots occupy 101 square miles of land.
By egd / Shutterstock

It might be difficult to remember when trying to find a spot near The Grove during the holiday season, but Los Angeles has an awful lot of parking spaces.

It’s difficult to say exactly how many, but new research from Superspace, a division of international architecture firm Woods Bagot, examines the combined size of all the surface-level parking lots in the LA area.

In just the city of Los Angeles, the study finds, these lots take up 27 square miles of cumulative space, which is a little larger than the city of Pasadena. Across LA County, surface lots occupy an astonishing 101 square miles—more than four times the size of Manhattan.

Superspace director Christian Derix tells Curbed that the firm’s research is meant to spur conversation about parking and development within Los Angeles. As local leaders focus more on public transit and other alternatives to driving, Derix says surface parking lots could easily be redeveloped as housing or parkland.

Parking lots in Downtown Los Angeles.
By trekandshoot / Shutterstock

Based on the firm’s research, if all these lots were built out based on the city’s existing density level, enough housing could be built for 830,000 residents. Countywide, another 3.7 million people could be accommodated if parking lots gave way to housing.

Derix says the research shows that addressing LA’s housing shortage doesn’t necessarily rely on adding buildings that are taller or more dense than those around them.

“Without changing the character of your city, you can provide a lot more housing,” says Derix.

“You’ll never develop 100 percent of parking lots with housing,” he says, but redeveloping some in strategic areas could make a big impact.

An interactive web tool allows users to test what parking lot development would look like in four LA neighborhoods—Downtown, Koreatown, Inglewood, and East LA—chosen for their diverse densities and zoning requirements.

Developing anywhere in LA comes with spatial, cultural, and economic impacts unique to each neighborhood, but Derix says this research is only meant to be “part of the discussion.”

There are always tradeoffs, he says, that come with rethinking land use patterns. But he argues that centralizing more housing in places where people want to park could help LA solve traffic, as well as housing, problems—simply by putting more people in walking distance of places they’re already going.

“If you reduce sprawl, you reduce commutes,” he says.