Urbanism Next
University of OregonUniversity of Oregon

Parks & Open Space

How do we protect open space under the pressure to expand cities? Can we reclaim parking lots or shopping malls for parks?


What is driving change?

Change in Parking Demand

Our past and current reliance on single occupancy automobiles for transportation has had a strong impact on land use patterns and the amount of land we use for parking. The change in parking demand due to transportation network companies (TNCs) and eventually autonomous vehicles (AVs) could drastically impact zoning and development regulations and reshape our land use patterns by shifting where we store vehicles (parking lots and curb space), and how much land we use for automobile-oriented functions.

Shift in Modes

With the increased availability of both shared micromobility programs and on-demand rides, modal shifts may occur. The deployment of AVs may also lead to a decrease in personal vehicle ownership, which may reduce the amount of land used for auto-oriented purposes such as gas stations, dealerships, and others. These changes may free up land to be redeveloped for other uses.

Reduction of Brick-and-Mortar Stores

The expansion of e-commerce has coincided with closures in brick-and mortar stores. Store closures create vacancies and redevelopment opportunities, and cities may need to consider how they zone for retail space.

Future Changes

What Could Happen?

  • A decreased demand for parking could free up space for redevelopment in urban areas. Parking lots and parking garages could be converted into parks and open spaces, while street parking could be transformed into “parklets,” wider sidewalks, or linear parks.
  • With the growth of e-commerce and the decline of retail, large retail parcels could be redeveloped. Former big box stores and shopping malls could be transformed into stand-alone parks or open spaces. They could also be integrated into existing open spaces or larger greenbelts, or repurposed into residential, commercial, or mixed-use places with integrated parks or open spaces.


  • The conversion of street parking into parks has been ongoing for well over a decade now. Designers in San Francisco first introduced the concept of what would become “parklets” in 2005, with the first permanent parklet installed in 2010. Since then, a number of cities including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Mexico City, and Auckland, New Zealand have invested in a variety of related repurposing efforts.
  • Successful conversions of malls and box stores into parks and open spaces have already happened. In Columbus, Ohio a former mall was transformed into a six-acre park and event space, although the mall’s underground parking garage was retained. In Seattle, a sprawling mall parking lot was converted into a mixed-use development with a new park designed to help restore a creek for local salmon. In Tainan, Taiwan a former mall was transformed into a park and urban lagoon. If retail continues to shrink, cities will likely have plenty of opportunities to continue this trend.

Quick facts

Coming soon...

  • The first "parklet" was established in San Francisco in 2010, following the success of the establishment of temporary parks in San Francisco parking lots in 2005.
  • One of the better examples of repurposing commercial centers is when Tainan, Taiwan converted an abandoned mall into an urban lagoon.

What to do

Coming soon...

Not sure where to start? Below are four What to Do pages that we think are especially relevant to Parks & Open Space:

More about what to do »


Policies, pilots, and approaches

Communication tools

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