Most quickly growing cities face the same problem—there's little land left to build new housing, and as the number of available apartments shrinks, rents keep going up. Munich is testing a new solution—building apartment buildings in the unused space over parking lots.
By 2030, Munich expects its population to grow around 15%, to more than 1.7 million people. "That means we have to build as many new apartments as possible," says Alexander Reissl, the floor leader of Munich's ruling Social Democrats. "That's not easy, because Munich is already the most densely built-up city in Germany. Open spaces are rare. So the question for us is: Where can we find innovative solutions for the problem? The Social Democrats had the idea to build apartments above parking lots."
Parking lots, they realized, aren't using space as well as they could be—and Munich has a lot of them, in front of schools, supermarkets, and public buildings. And unlike most places in a city, parking lots don't inspire neighbors to fight for preservation. "Nobody will claim that parking lots are such attractive places that they couldn't be changed," says Reissl.
In a pilot project this year, the city plans to build a new apartment building on top of a city-owned parking lot next to a swimming pool that was originally used in the 1972 Olympics. The new four-story building will have 120 apartments, all basic enough to be affordable for students, low-income families, and the growing group of refugees who will be allowed to stay in Munich.
"The accommodation of refugees is a big challenge for Munich," he says. "But not only for them do we need cheaper apartments. Munich is the city with the highest rents in [all of] Germany. Students, trainees, or pensioners are seriously affected by the expensive prices in our city. To end the price spiral, we have to build many new lofts with reduced standards and subsequently hopefully with reduced rents."
The first project will be built on stilts, so people visiting the swimming pool still have a place to park. So far, the city hasn't considered eliminating parking lots completely. But the apartments may not come with parking spaces of their own, something that is a typical building requirement even when many residents don't actually have cars. One op-ed in a local paper argued that it no longer makes sense to force builders to include parking:
Do we really want to remove space for people just to make more space for cars? It is not about getting rid of cars or displacing them from the city. But more space for cars results in more cars and paralyzes the creativity to try other forms of mobility, even if it is only the alternative of sharing a car.
The first parking lot apartment building may be complete by the end of 2016, and now the city is trying to convince other parking lot owners to consider apartment buildings themselves. (Since some lots are in commercial zones, they're also considering changing zoning laws.) "We hope that our pilot project in front of a public swimming bath is a role model for grocery stores and other private owners of parking lots," says Reissl. "We want them to understand that it's possible to give a double function to the parking lots—and that they could earn money when they [get involved] in house building."