Build a City by Limiting Parking

Parking spaces for automobiles take away precious land from other uses and too many parking spaces can effectively kill a community. In Boston where they do anything to ensure cars reign supreme urban planners are turning their backs on providing parking spaces in order to revitalize the city.

The pro-car attitude is very 20th century and it’s good to see that more and more cities in North America are finding ways to ensure people can use the city as more than a place to drive and work.

City planners are in the middle of an extensive re-thinking of Boston’s zoning codes. As they work, neighborhood by neighborhood, to update the code, they’re flipping the conventional thinking about parking on its head: Instead of mandating that minimum levels of parking accompany new developments, they’re pushing to establish maximum parking caps.

Minimum parking requirements are relics of a time when urban vitality depended on developers’ ability to draw suburbanites into the city to work, shop, or live. As the suburbs boomed, cities imported suburban-style infrastructure and grafted it onto a decaying urban fabric. The result wasn’t just a landscape scarred by highways and pockmarked by monolithic concrete parking garages; this postwar shift also left reams of zoning code built on the assumption that the world revolved around the automobile.

Patterns of living, and travel, have evolved. Residents now work and shop in closer proximity to their homes. The city is no longer at the automobile’s mercy. But zoning hasn’t caught up to this new reality. Until now.

Environmental officials imposed flat parking caps downtown during the 1970s, but this new approach is surgical. The old parking cap made wide allowances for automobiles at residential developments. City planners are now arguing that residential developments should be given less leeway, not more, since many urban residents don’t need a car to get to work. That’s true in the Back Bay and downtown, and especially along the waterfront, where the BRA is trying to create a critical mass of technology and innovation firms by pushing small business incubators and cheap live-work space.

Developers aren’t huge fans of large parking requirements for urban apartment buildings, since parking garages are expensive to construct. Often, the cost of building parking spaces can make or break a project. Developers are also finding that renters aren’t demanding as many parking spots as they used to. Archstone’s Chinatown tower, for example, was built with a glut of excess parking; the last two residential towers to enter permitting in that neighborhood have been designed with dramatically lower quantities of parking. And the envelope can be pushed even further.

Read the rest at the Boston Globe.