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Parking and Recreation

A competition challenged four architecture firms to come up with new ideas for Long Island downtowns.

By Fred A. Bernstein
January 29, 2014
Image courtesy Utile, Inc.
Utile, Inc.'s scheme for Rockville Centre, where a train station on columns already exists, would add monumental arcades to shelter a garage during the week and a pedestrian plaza on weekends.

Proponents of smart growth, which generally involves reliance on mass transit, should find a lot to admire on Long Island, where the nation’s largest commuter railroad carries upwards of 300,000 passengers a day. The trouble is that many of those commuters arrive at local train stations by car. Worse, their trips between home and station often involve multiple stops, with parking required at each store, restaurant, doctor’s office, gym, and drycleaner along the away.

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But imagine if Long Island commuters, arriving at new station-centric developments by train, could work out, eat dinner, shop, and pick up their laundry before getting in their cars. By including parking, the new facilities could also free up thousands of acres now used as surface lots. Those acres could be diverted to “higher” uses, including affordable housing, making it easier for young people who grow up on Long Island to remain there.

After years of discussing those possibilities, the Long Island-based Rauch Foundation decided to show residents what the transit-oriented development might look like. So the foundation sponsored a competition called ParkingPLUS, which challenged four architecture firms to come up with new ideas for Long Island downtowns. Chosen from among 30 that expressed interest, the four firms were given real sites to work with as well as stipends of $15,000, thanks to the Foundation, the beneficiary of an auto parts fortune that is dedicated, in part, to lessening the downside of suburban sprawl.

For a site in Patchogue, dub studios (of New York and Los Angeles) proposed incremental improvements—including landscaped pedestrian pathways and automated signs pointing to available spaces—to make existing surface parking more hospitable. (Click on the image above to see a slide show.) For a location at the Ronkonkoma train station, L.A.’s Roger Sherman Architecture and Design offered the cleverly named Parks and Rides, a giant bubble-like building containing parking lots and an indoor amusement park.

For Rockville Centre, where a train station on columns already exists, Utile, Inc. of Boston added monumental arcades that would shelter a garage during the week and a pedestrian plaza, perhaps for a farmers’ market, on weekends. And for Westbury, the Manhattan firm Lewis/Tsurumaki/Lewis (LTL) devised a mixed use facility, called Design Terraces, that could be built in phases over, under, and alongside the Long Island Rail Road station. Partner Marc Tsurumaki says the firm chose to “propose an intervention sufficiently practical so as not to be easily dismissed as fantasy.”  Indeed, he said, he hopes to see the plan adopted in some form. “We wanted to rethink parking–typically seen in purely negative terms–as a condenser for new programmatic and urban possibilities that might offer an alternative to continued suburban expansion.”

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