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Long Island’s suburban downtowns to get massive overhaul

| January 21, 2014

With more than 4,000 acres (roughly 6.5 square miles) of surface parking in and around downtowns throughout Long Island, the region has plenty of asphalt to transform into vibrant city centers. At least that’s what local organization The Rauch Foundation put forward last week when it introduced design concepts that resulted from its Build a Better Burb: ParkingPLUS Design Challenge.

Concerned with sustainability and systemic community change, the foundation focused its challenge on parking garages. When designed properly, garages can be both inspiring architectural attractions and engines for economic revitalization, as well as allies of alternative transit, the foundation said. Garages can make downtowns more pedestrian-friendly and public transportation more accessible.

Rockville Centre LIRR station

Many Long Island suburbs feature excellent train connections to New York City, but their surface parking wastes space. Several cities are enlisting design and architecture firms for suggestions. Rockville Centre LIRR station; image by xxchristinexx.

The challenge for designers, then, was how they might integrate other uses — multifamily residences, biking infrastructure, even civic spaces — with a structure like a parking deck. Or perhaps the uses would fill currently vacant land that could be occupied by a garage in the future.

Last fall the foundation selected four architectural firms to propose design innovations that would address these possibilities in Long Island and elsewhere. Each firm was paired with a local community that volunteered staff time and information. LTL Architects got Westbury; Utile, Inc. got Rockville Centre; DUB Studios received Patchogue; and Roger Sherman Architecture and Urban Design was paired with Ronkonkoma. Together, each pairing sought to clarify community needs and identify sites appropriate for redesign.

The results of the collaborations were unveiled at Adelphi University, where urban planners, executives from the Long Island Rail Road, and local and county officials heard presentations from the design teams.

“I’m very invested in trying to have a conversation about what we could do about parking downtown and using these designs as a jumping-off point for those conversations,” said Ann Golob, who supervises the Long Island Index, a series of reports published by The Rauch Foundation.

Roger Sherman Architecture and Urban Design presented a plan for Ronkonkoma that it dubbed “ParksandRides.” Featuring a structure longer than the Empire State Building laid on its side, the plan integrated parking with various recreational spaces, such as soccer fields, a hockey rink, and a cricket stadium. It also proposed hotel and office uses.

For Rockville Centre, design and architecture firm Utile, Inc. recommended linking three lots via the columned pedestrian passageway currently located under the area’s elevated tracks. The lots would feature structures no higher than four stories with tall, arched, ground-floor spaces. When not used for parking, the spaces could be used for markets or festivals and would also incorporate housing, retail, and tennis courts.

Rockville Centre ParkingPLUS garages

Utile, Inc.’s plans for Rockville Centre’s new parking garages. From Utile, Inc.

“Thinking equal parts pragmatism and invention,” according to David Lewis of LTL Architects, the firm proposed for Westbury a multistory parking garage adjacent to the community’s elevated tracks. Dramatic terraced housing would sit atop the structure, and above the tracks, a passageway would connect to the south, where more structures would offer office space and bicycle facilities. A more spacious passageway would also be made between the tracks’ north and south sides.

Patchogue officials told DUB Studios that all the community really wanted was more parking. The village’s redevelopment has continued to attract more traffic, they said, but Michael Piper, project manager for the studio, replied that Patchogue already has the capacity it needs. “We said, look, you actually have a lot of parking that isn’t being used all the time,” he explained.

The firm proposed a parking deck that would feature passageways to existing lots.

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Category: Municipal, Parking management

About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

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