Meet the Designer Behind the NYC Parking Boom

east_river_plaza.jpg

Earlier this week, the Times real estate section profiled the developer-architect team behind East River Plaza, a big box retail outlet in East Harlem that will include 1,248 parking spaces when it opens next year. In the piece, we learn that the project's designer, an Atlanta-based Home Depot specialist called GreenbergFarrow, is responsible for other parking-rich shopping centers throughout the city, including Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market (pictured above), Rego Park Mall II, and the Red Hook Ikea.

In one passage, a GreenbergFarrow architect explains his firm's intention to replicate the suburban shopping experience in the urban core:

People might visit a shopping district like SoHo or Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village as an enjoyable way to pass a few hours, but they shop in big-box stores purely for practical reasons and are annoyed if they are forced to linger, said John R. Clifford, a principal of GreenbergFarrow. “One experience is recreational and the other is all about convenience,” he said in an interview at the company’s Manhattan office.

From the outset, Mr. Blumenfeld, the principal of the Blumenfeld Development Group, hoped to attract retailers like Home Depot and Costco, whose suburban customers are used to parking in a big lot and wheeling carts and pallets along flat surfaces.

Since a parking lot was out of the question at East River Plaza, GreenbergFarrow tried to make parking in the garage as similar as possible to a suburban experience. The parking surfaces themselves are flat and accessible directly from the stores by bridges, and shoppers enter and exit by means of circular ramps located at two corners of the parking structure.

So, in the name of convenience, Blumenfeld Development and GreenbergFarrow are squandering the inherent attraction of urban streets -- walkable places where people actually like to linger -- and flooding the city with additional car trips.

These big box stores may have been given the green light before PlaNYC was unveiled, but how does this wave of car-friendly development square with Mayor Bloomberg's much-touted sustainability goals? Between a City Planning Department that sits back and allows the willy-nilly construction of new public parking garages, and an Economic Development Corporation that actively courts big box retailers and signs off on stadium parking subsidies, the push to mitigate traffic seems to have been limited to congestion pricing. Streetsblog has a request into the Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability to find out whether scaling back huge parking facilities is on the mayor's agenda.

Rendering of Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market: Brennan Beer Gorman Architects/New York Times