Parks and Rides: A Horizontal Skyscraper — Q&A with Architect Roger Sherman and Team Members Kati Rubinyi and Greg Lindsay


Roger Sherman, founding principal of Roger Sherman Architecture + Urban Design (RSAUD), designed the Parks and Rides proposal for the ParkingPLUS Design Challenge. Sherman’s team members include Greg Lindsay, author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, and Kati Rubinyi, editor of The Car in 2035: Mobility Planning for the Near Future. The RSAUD team designed a super-scaled, family-focused, all-season recreational park in the form of a tipped-over Empire State Building, with alternating levels of parking and other uses, for a 30-acre lot in Ronkonkoma serving a major Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station and regional airport. I spoke with Roger, Greg, and Kati about their proposal in December 2013.

Your design recalls the Empire State Building, inserting “a slice of Manhattan’s energy, density and intensity into Long Island.” How does your proposal reflect the changing relationship between city and suburbs? Why would we want to inject a piece of Manhattan into the ‘burbs?

Roger Sherman: Many recent studies of the travel habits of those dwelling in the outlying regions of cities indicate that they are increasingly choosing to also work in those same or nearby peripheral areas, rather than adopting the traditional suburb-to-center commuting pattern. This is due of course to the increased cost of gas and desire to spend less time commuting to and from work. While our project is aimed at recognizing this, we are especially interested in the fascinating paradox that is raised by the simultaneous and conflicting desire of those same commuters not to lose the excitement, propinquity, and accessibility that the idea of Manhattan still holds to them. Our project asks how a person might be able to experience that without having to actually go there—albeit in an alternate, more recreational, auto-centric version.


The project aims to insert a slice of Manhattan’s energy, density and intensity into Long Island. Image courtesy of RSAUD

Long Island has the Big Duck. New Jersey has Lucy the Elephant. How does your proposal build on the theme of roadside architectural amusements?

Sherman: The idea of creating a roadside (or in this case a trackside or airport) attraction is a natural one in a location that stands to capitalize upon the high volume of traffic running past and through it, often to and from leisure destinations.

Your design would be built in a place that you’ve called “a site in search of a town,” turning a sea of parking into a destination. For other suburban places in search of a town, what lessons does your design offer?

Sherman: We view our project less as a prototype than as a response to the exceptional nature of our site: not only with respect to its sheer size, but its location at a strategic crossroads—a “perfect storm” of transit, demographics, and itinerary.

Kati Rubinyi, how would your team’s proposal be adaptable as forms of mobility change in future decades?

Kati Rubinyi: As its name implies, Ronkonkoma Parks and Rides is first and foremost a mobility hub, ushering commuters to, through, and from it. Amongst these varied itineraries, it addresses the “last mile” problem: how people get from it to their homes, even if in this case those homes are a half-hour away. In 25 years, unmanned low-speed zero emissions vehicles that are parked at Parks and Rides will be dispatched online to pick up commuters, individually or in small groups. The model is not unlike the shopping cart provided by a grocery store. Of equal importance is the fact that these vehicles are small enough and slow enough to be driven inside the building itself—nearly a half-mile long—taking people to different activities and destinations within it.

Greg Lindsay, how did the neighboring airport influence your team’s design?

Greg Lindsay: MacArthur will never be an aerotropolis, but even the modest number of passengers who pass through its terminals could potentially be transformative for Ronkonkoma. The problem is that those terminals are in the wrong place—on the south side of the airfield rather than the north, adjacent to the LIRR and the Long Island Expressway (LIE) beyond. Our design accounts for the possibility that MacArthur might one day fix its mistake and move the terminals—or more likely, build a new one—to benefit both passengers and the surrounding communities.


The design accounts for potential future additional terminals of MacArthur Airport directly linked to the site and the LIRR. Image courtesy of RSAUD

The virtues of the suburbs are often not readily apparent to 20-somethings. How would your design be a magnet for college and post-college kids—people Long Island is currently losing?

Lindsay: I’m not so sure Long Island should be worried about losing them, because I suspect they will one day return as thirty-something Millennials with children, priced out of Manhattan (and Brooklyn), searching for the features they loved about the city, but with one or two kids at home. We’re not competing with the city, and we’re not trying to make the ’burbs more like it; we’re just trying to keep the convenience of the city and its best elements, repackaged in a form that families will love (and can afford).

Your proposal also offers something for “soccer dads.” What do you see as the draw for them?

Lindsay: They can watch their kids’ soccer games on the ballfields in the morning, then walk across the building for pizza and a movie, and then shop at the artisanal food market afterward to make dinner at home. We’re trying to pack the best elements of the city and the suburbs into one footprint.


“We are trying to pack the best elements of the city and the suburbs into one footprint.” Image courtesy of RSAUD

Your design is enormously ambitious. Could it be built?

Sherman: Without question. The opportunity presented by the site and its location is as enormous as its size. As our own market study and economic analysis indicates, not capitalizing upon the latter would be leaving taxpayer money on the table, or at a minimum failing to take advantage of a potentially highly profitable revenue stream for the County, LIRR, and MacArthur Airport. There are a variety of innovative methods of delivery involving public-private partnerships such as sale-leaseback, payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements, and joint powers authorities that are increasingly being looked to and successfully executed by public agencies looking to minimize risk while leveraging the value of their real estate assets.

I have to ask about the blimp. Where did this wild idea come from?

Sherman: It seemed to us that at a mobility hub adjacent to a regional airport in an area known as a leisure destination, providing a mode of transport-for-pleasure (like the Napa Valley wine train) was only natural. The fact that the blimp also would serve as a roaming reminder of the Ronkonkoma Hub was also important. As was the fact that the Empire State Building was New York’s first airport—for travel by zeppelin—as depicted in numerous postcards and publications at the time it was built.


“In an area known as a leisure destination, providing a mode of transport-for-pleasure was only natural,” says Roger Sherman about the blimp. Image courtesy of RSAUD

More about Ronkonkoma Parks and Rides

See an overview of the design.

Find out more about the Design Proposal.

Watch a video of Roger Sherman unveiling the design.

More about ParkingPLUS

Find out about the potential economic benefits of the ParkingPLUS designs.

Read about how to finance parking garages, and why it pays to build them in downtown and train station areas.

Learn more about the ParkingPLUS design challenge.