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.

Toronto is Getting Better

There’s an election happening in Toronto right now and all the campaigns lack optimism and the people have noticed. Local columnist Christopher Hume has compiled a fun list of things that are good which are already under development in Toronto. He wants to help people realize all the good things happening in the city – good for him and good for Toronto.

Nuit Blanche: One night, one million people and 130-odd art installations scattered throughout the core; the result is the most genuinely popular cultural event in Toronto. The fifth edition, held this past weekend, closed off much of the downtown stretch of Yonge and Bloor streets for 12 hours of pedestrian freedom. Despite annual complaints of drunkenness and loutish behaviour, Nuit Blanche is a brilliant way of getting Torontonians engaged in their city at street level.

Evergreen Brickworks: Much remains to be done, but already this innovative and thoroughly entertaining complex has become a gateway to the Toronto ravine system and ecological urbanism. It also happens to be one of the most extensive and imaginative heritage rehabilitation schemes ever seen in Toronto. With several large galleries, classrooms and various amenities, indoors and out, this is a place to see an exhibition, take a course, eat dinner, go for skate or enjoy the views.

Right the rest of Hume’s article.

Cities Are More Environmentally Friendly

Get out of the suburbs and into the city! Especially if you care about the environment.

The cities are where all the good policy around climate change is being enacted. While international agreements are not much more than show cities around the world are fighting hard to ensure that their locales are liveable and sustainable.

Cities have a unique power to drive immediate change involving issues such as public transportation, but they also can help influence prosaic long-term land use planning (think about all those interminable city council meetings) to realize truly sustainable cities. No futuristic visions of cities are needed. For now, the reality is more mundane: asphalt recycling and better insulation in buildings, timers for coffee makers and telecommuting, light sensors, and water conservation.

Local governments are tackling GHG emissions in any way they can: Boston, for instance, has mandated the nation’s first green building code for private projects. In Gainesville, Fla., the city utility pays a premium for solar power from peoples’ homes fed back into the grid. In Babylon, N.Y., homeowners are eligible for loans to make their homes more efficient, and those loans are entirely repaid through cost savings in their power bills.

But to create low- or zero-emission cities — among the only ways to avoid dangerous climate change if the objective is to cut GHG emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, the target set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — more revolutionary changes are needed.

At least 1,000 cities in the U.S. and around the world are adopting targets and taking action, says ICLEI. Cities are cooperating internationally, offering financial incentive programs for clean power plants and home retrofits, and planning growth and emission cuts as much as half-a-century down the road.

Cities lead the way in action to halt climate change at The Guardian.

White Paint can Cool Cities

A computer simulation of the urban environment has proven that in theory white paint on rooftops can significantly cool cities – thus saving energy in the summer that would be used for air conditioning.

Cities are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they are warmer than outlying rural areas. Asphalt roads, tar roofs, and other artificial surfaces absorb heat from the Sun, creating an urban heat island effect that can raise temperatures on average by 2-5 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1-3 degrees Celsius) or more compared to rural areas. White roofs would reflect some of that heat back into space and cool temperatures, much as wearing a white shirt on a sunny day can be cooler than wearing a dark shirt.
The study team used a newly developed computer model to simulate the amount of solar radiation that is absorbed or reflected by urban surfaces. The model simulations, which provide scientists with an idealized view of different types of cities around the world, indicate that, if every roof were entirely painted white, the urban heat island effect could be reduced by 33 percent. This would cool the world’s cities by an average of about 0.7 degrees F, with the cooling influence particularly pronounced during the day, especially in summer.

Read the rest of the article.

Car Free Cities are Always an Option

Today I’ll cut right to the chase: car free cities are thriving in Europe. Awesome.

A quarter of households in Britain – more in the larger cities, and a majority in some inner cities – live without a car. Imagine how quality of life would improve for cyclists and everyone else if traffic were removed from areas where people could practically choose to live without cars. Does this sound unrealistic, utopian? Did you know many European cities are already doing it?

Vauban in Germany is one of the largest car-free neighbourhoods in Europe, home to more than 5,000 people. If you live in the district, you are required to confirm once a year that you do not own a car – or, if you do own one, you must buy a space in a multi-storey car park on the edge of the district. One space was initially provided for every two households, but car ownership has fallen over time, and many of these spaces are now empty.

Vehicles are allowed down the residential streets at walking pace to pick up and deliver, but not to park. In practice, vehicles are rarely seen moving here. It has been taken over by kids as young as four or five, playing, skating and unicycling without direct supervision. The adults, too, tend to socialise outdoors far more than they would on conventional streets open to traffic (behaviour that’s echoed in the UK, too).

Read the full article at the Guardian.

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