Will the Parking Facilities of the Future Double as Farms?

As the industry bids to future-proof parking facilities, perhaps it’s time we took blue-sky thinking a little more literally.

By Ian Hodgins     |         5 min read

The advent of self-driving vehicles and ride-sharing services has led some in the parking industry to contemplate whether parking facilities need to be future-proofed.

As Fernando Sanchez of McCarthy Building Companies explained in August’s Parking magazine, “The most common design response has been greater floor-to-floor heights, flatter floors, alternate drainage positioning and other elements.” These provisions are engineered to protect purpose-built facilities from obsolescence by allowing sections to be retrofitted for residential, retail, or commercial use at a later date.

If we accept the need to future-proof facilities — though parking demand is forecasted to rise steadily for many years — perhaps it’s time to get creative. Perhaps looking forward also requires looking up.

Roof Retrofits

Roof retrofits aren’t a new idea. Already, many commercial buildings have “greened” their roofs with flower gardens to improve tenant satisfaction and overall aesthetic appeal. An assortment of property management companies have even welcomed bee hives to their roofs in a bid to support the local ecosystem and provide tenants with sweet treats. However, while people and planet undeniably benefit from these sustainability initiatives, they don’t necessarily translate into profits.

Solar panel leasing is an increasingly popular way to generate revenue from otherwise untapped roof space — and it’s mutually beneficial. Third-party solar companies on the hunt for more square footage are more than willing to rent space wherever they can while maintaining sole responsibility for their upkeep. Yet, due to inclement weather and building positioning, not all properties are suitable venues for full-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) installations.

So, how can parking facility roofs generate revenue, meet sustainability expectations, and improve tenant satisfaction in the future? The answer could be commercial-scale rooftop greenhouses.

Commercial Rooftop Farming

The world’s first commercial rooftop greenhouse cropped up seven years ago. Pioneered by Lufa Farms in Montreal, the 31,000-square-foot hydroponic facility produces a selection of herbs, microgreens, cucumbers, and peppers year round. The greenhouse’s highly efficient closed-water system collects rainwater and snowmelt, and recycles 100 percent of gray water and agricultural waste water.

In the same year, U.S.-based Gotham Greens built their flagship hydroponic facility in Brooklyn, NYC. At a more modest 15,000 square feet, the facility became the country’s first commercial-scale greenhouse of its kind, producing over 100,000 pounds of leafy greens every year with energy harvested from neighboring 60 kW solar panels. Today, Gotham Greens employs over 160 employees across four greenhouses (totaling 170,000 square feet) in NYC and Chicago, with an additional 500,000 square feet in production.

Fast Facts

Commercial rooftop farms could:


Recycle rainwater/snowmelt

Reduce a host building’s energy bills (heat trapping)

Divert green waste away from landfills

Preserve biologically complete green spaces

Attract and retain tenants

Make healthy food more affordable

Why Parking Structures

Even if eating a parking facility–grown zucchini doesn’t immediately entice the palate, it undeniably makes good social, sustainable, and economic sense. Commercial rooftop greenhouses can support local commerce, create jobs, produce affordable, healthy food — all at zero waste. In return, building owners can enjoy a highly innovative roof renovation that’s high yield, low risk, and doesn’t gamble primary parking value.

“There are many different ways to farm in cities and the commercial viability of doing it on top of a parking structure will largely depend on the size, style, and type of farm a project is seeking,” Gotham Greens co-founder and CEO, Viraj Puri, says. “At Gotham Greens, we specialize in high-tech, climate-controlled greenhouse farms that can provide commercial-scale volumes of fresh produce. Our greenhouse structures utilize hydroponics, which eliminate the need for soil, so they can be extremely productive and space efficient.”

Gotham Greens co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri

The parking asset owners of the future, then, can get excited about the prospect of playing host to an urban farm. “Parking garage structures typically have greater load bearing capacities than modern industrial/commercial buildings,” Viraj, whose company was named one of the “Coolest Businesses in America” by Business Insider, adds. “However, structural engineering analysis would still be required to determine feasibility and associated costs of adding a rooftop use. Green roofs [vegetation grown over a waterproofing membrane] tend to increase live loads more significantly, while rooftop greenhouses tend to increase dead loads.”

Most closed-top parking facilities, too, have unused flat roofs that pose a stormwater challenge both green roofs and greenhouses would nullify. Even some open-top parking facilities, depending on utilization rates and climate, could stand to be more profitable if converted.

Keeping Grounded

But of course, it’s not all peaches and cream. As commercial rooftop greenhouses are still in their salad days, there are few tried-and-tested models to build the confidence of today’s parking asset owners enough to get the idea off the ground. And as with anything new and of this scale, the bureaucratic process is taxing.

“Transforming a commercial roof space into a green roof of a greenhouse can be challenging,” Viraj explains. “Zoning and building codes have to be studied and complied with, or variances would need to be obtained. Floor area ratio, occupancy type, life safety and utility infrastructure would all need to be considered.”

“In theory, parking facilities would make a lot of sense. They’re built with high load-bearing capacity and are located in densely populated areas close to consumers and retailers. In application, though, design and construction costs may outweigh the feasibility of converting a significant number of parking rooftops.” Viraj concludes.

As a result, it may be a while before rooftop greenhouses pepper our parking facilities. Nonetheless, the long-term sustainability of planet and parking could do with a little outside-the-box thinking. And Impark will continue to seek out the ideas, innovations, and disruptors that could change the course of our industry. Certainly when it comes to future-proofing parking, the sky’s the limit.

Impark

Impark has re-engineered numerous parking structures over the years, turning each into sustainable, environmentally sound structures of which property owners and managers can be proud. We understand and cultivate the whole opportunity spectrum so we can harvest the right solution for your facility, be it solar farming, retrofitting, enhanced digital marketing, or otherwise.

Contact us today to see how we can drive sustainable success at your site.

Ian Hodgins is a director of strategic accounts at Impark. Email him at ihodgins@impark.com.

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