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When car ownership fades, this parking garage will be ready for its next life

One of the country’s biggest apartment developers is working on plans for a grand residential complex in downtown Los Angeles that includes what appears to be an ordinary garage.

There will be row upon row of lined stalls at street level and two floors underground to store nearly 1,000 cars of tenants and visitors to the trendy Arts District, where parking is relentlessly hard to find.

But when it’s completed in about four years, the ample garage will be one of the first of its kind in Los Angeles: It’s designed to eventually serve other uses.

AvalonBay Communities Inc. has planned the garage for a time when ride-sharing services such as Uber and self-driving taxis whittle down car ownership until parking places become expendable.

That might mean its level rather than inclined floors common to many garages could someday be converted into shops, a gym and a theater.

“Our world is going to change radically and we are going to be alive to see it. It’s not a generation away, it’s 10 years away,” said Los Angeles architect Andy Cohen, who is not involved with the project but has created a presentation he gives to clients about the architectural implications of the transportation revolution.

AvalonBay is not the only real estate developer that has bought into the idea. Rick Caruso, the owner of the Grove and other upscale shopping centers, is working with Google to prepare for the arrival of self-driving cars and is looking forward to eventually swapping mall parking spaces for apartments, restaurants and stores.

The strategy reflects a consensus among some developers and planners that California’s vaunted car culture is inevitably going to run out of gas — as inconceivable as that might be for many adults who have spent decades controlling their own destiny behind the wheel.

Cohen, co-chief executive of architecture firm Gensler, predicts car ownership will peak around 2020 and then start to decline, with more Americans relying on some form of ride-sharing than their own vehicles by 2025.

That means cars gradually would disappear from home garages, curbs and parking structures, freeing up acre upon acre of real estate for new uses.

“One of the great changes in the next 20 years is going to be redevelopment of parking garages,” said Christopher Leinberger, chairman of the Center for Real estate & Urban Analysis at George Washington University.

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