Driving Change

Nick Whitten, Research Director, explores the residential opportunities of converting land in cities currently occupied by cars.

I want to highlight an opportunity.


It could be the greatest land conversion opportunity of the 21st Century. This is an opportunity that can serve a huge economic, social and environmental benefit. This is an opportunity that can fundamentally transform the lives of the 4 billion people who live in the world’s cities.


This opportunity involves the re-provision of land physically occupied by the world’s 1 billion-plus individually owned or leased cars. To understand this opportunity in greater detail, JLL analysed 10 major European cities to assess how much land is given over to cars.


Our findings show that privately operated cars are currently parked on an area totalling 21,000 hectares across the 10 major cities – an area equivalent to 538 Canary Wharfs or 148 Hyde Parks.

Based on average residential values in each of the ten cities, this land carries a value of circa £1 trillion.


Furthermore, the road networks for these cars totals 99,500km – enough road to travel two and half times around the world.


And yet this land is used hugely inefficiently. In fact, a privately-operated car is only used 4% of its average 15-year lifespan, according to research from Morgan Stanley. The rest of its life it is parked.

But things could be about to change.


Climate emergency is forcing city planners to look at ways to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality – and one of their focuses is on reducing car usage in urban areas. Meanwhile, rapid technological advances are paving the way for electrified automated robo-taxis to become a commonplace feature of a city’s public transport system.


The OECD modelled the potential use of an Uber-style public transport system in Lisbon and found that it could reduce the number of cars on the road by 90%. Using a new democratised public transport system – in which anyone and everyone could hail a bus or taxi to near their house – the reduced number of vehicles that would be on the road could be used far more intensively than the current system of individual private operation. And it is this changed model that brings about the great land conversion opportunity – an opportunity that should be viewed through an economic, social and environmental lens.


Larger areas given over to parking could be used for commercial or economic benefit. Previous JLL research found there are circa 10,000 urban car parks in the UK which could be used to build 400,000 new homes. Private garages could also be used for easy conversion to thousands of new habitable rooms.


From a socially beneficial perspective, new larger and safer cycle lanes could be introduced along roadsides where cars are currently normally parked. Widespread pedestrianisation could also occur on smaller connecting roads between blocks. Barcelona’s city authority is currently experimenting with this idea through the creation of ‘superblocks’.


And finally, great environmental benefit could occur through the mass ‘greening’ of driveways or the creation of new linear parks on former roads. Of course, it isn’t going to be a completely smooth road towards achieving this utopian position. Alternatives to privately operated driving need to increase quickly and the infrastructure required to allow these methods to work will significantly need to improve.


But this is an opportunity to fundamentally change the urban landscape. And given the size of the prize economically, socially and environmentally, it is one we cannot afford to miss.

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