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Developers are struggling to find opportunities for land that would lead to a profitable housing option for more working Americans in urban areas. Yet, there seems to be a big opportunity... A data scan of parking in several markets shows an attractive development opportunity. Now, how to get from parking to living?

In Seattle, there are around 1.6 million parking spaces–more than five for every household in the city. Des Moines, a much smaller city, also has roughly 1.6 million parking spaces, or 19.4 per household. The small town of Jackson, Wyoming, has 27.1 parking spots per household.

A new report calculates, for the first time, exactly how many parking spots are in five cities–New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Des Moines, and Jackson–and gives a sense of how much money and land is being wasted on car storage. It’s data that cities don’t have now, because it’s hard to gather a comprehensive list of spots–not only the ones on streets but in garages and on private land. The report analyzes satellite data to identify some parking spots, pulls on-street parking statistics from city records, and finds other off-street parking in parcel data. The basic finding: Cities have far more parking spaces than they need.

Philadelphia satellite imagery [Image: Eric Scharnhorst/Parkingmill]
Only in New York City, where there are around 1.9 million parking spaces for the five boroughs, are there more homes than parking spots. Philadelphia has more than 2 million spots, or 3.7 per household.

If some drivers still have the perception that there isn’t enough parking, that’s likely because parking is underpriced or free, says Eric Scharnhorst, a principal data scientist at the startup Parkingmill, who wrote the report for the Research Institute for Housing America, an arm of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“A lot of times, I’m guilty of this too: If I’m looking for a parking space and I know the on-street stuff is provided for free, or it’s less expensive per hour to park on the street than on the adjacent lot or garage, I’ll circle the street to try to get a deal, even though I know there’s an open spot in the garage or in the parking lot,” he says. “That also influences traffic–there’s more than one person circling the block looking for a deal.”

Parking garages are typically underused–one garage in downtown Des Moines was 92% empty in the middle of the day–but cities spend millions to build the structures. The report estimates that among the five cities analyzed here, parking was worth roughly $81 billion. In Jackson, Wyoming, the estimated cost of parking for each household was $192,138.

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