Parkomat must have felt like the future at one time
When we someday dig into the archeology of the late 20th Century, there is no question we will marvel at society's contorted efforts to integrate the automobile into everyday life. Cars, whether we like it or not, are not going away until we cannot afford to run them anymore. It's a variant of another expression but probably more true to say that for many people they'll give you their steering wheel only when you take it from their cold, dead hands!
The other day someone sent me a funny and fascinating video clip about an underground automated car parking system built in Budapest by the Wöhr company of Germany. A great topic for CityCaucus.com, I thought, so I began researching the topic somewhat. Little did I realize that the search for urban parking perfection has been a long quest of engineers. There seems to be countless systems that propose to be the best for parking your car for you, with the lowest footprint on the urban landscape.
Wöhr's pitch is very Eurocentric. Let's keep the public squares open for people and hide the autos underneath. It looks like a great idea, but of course you have no idea on the return on investment without a lot of study. Burying these systems ain't cheap. I began to find more systems touted on YouTube, and all of them rely heavily on computer animation. That suggests to me that the automated parking systems are still for many cities stuck on the drawing board.
For example, there's Revo-park, with its computer animation that reminds me of the sets from a first-person shooter game like Quake. Then there is US-based Boomerang Systems who seem to diss all those mamby-pamby Asian and European alternative technologies with good old American ingenuity. Then there is this system from Israel, and the very important presentation by a gorgeous TV host. I don't understand Hebrew, but it's fascinating to watch nonetheless.
Then there is Assa's Chess Parking System, labeled as "the best parking system EVER"! They certainly have the best name of a manufacturer. Then there is the absolutely horrifying Parkomat (clip seen above) which promotes its modular parking towers to scale up and down based upon need. The buildings themselves look like bad airplane hangers, but situated in your downtown core.
To me the best vision for a car-friendly world has always been Disney's Magic Highway from 1958. This clip touts how "spacious, well-planned communities will be closely integrated with the highway system." It's a classic bit of wishful thinking by 1950s urban planners and the US automotive industry, who seemed to be working hammer and tong back in those days. Of course, those were the days when father went to work, and mother and child went shopping.
I guess it's fair to say that parking is an important business, albeit not a very efficient one. It's interesting to me that for all the energy some companies have put into these computer-controlled stacking systems, so few real world installations of them seem to exist. I guess we'll continue to park the old fashioned way for some time to come, that is unless you can get me to let go of the steering wheel.
- post by Mike