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1 day 1 hour ago
Courtesy of ACA Amore Campione Architettura Courtesy of ACA Amore Campione Architettura

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1 day 2 hours ago
© Alejo Bagué © Alejo Bagué
  • Architects: OAB
  • Location: Av. Patria 1721, Lomas de Atemajac, Zapopan, Jal., Mexico
  • Category: Office buildings
  • Lead Architects: OAB, Xavier Martí & Carlos Ferrater
  • Collaborator: Montse Trilla
  • Associate Architects: Estudio Hidalgo, Álvaro Beruben
  • Area: 289.0 m2
  • Project Year: 2018
  • Photographs: Alejo Bagué

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1 day 4 hours ago

At the dawn of the automobile age, suppose Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller had asked how city planners could increase the demand for cars and gasoline. Consider three options. First, divide the city into separate zones (housing here, jobs there, shopping somewhere else) to create travel between the zones. Second, limit density to spread everything apart and further increase travel. Third, require ample off-street parking everywhere so cars will be the easiest and cheapest way to travel.

American cities have unwisely adopted these three car-friendly policies. Separated land uses, low density, and ample free parking create drivable cities and prevent walkable neighborhoods. Although city planners did not intend to enrich the automobile and oil industries, their plans have shaped our cities to suit our cars. As John Keats wrote in The Insolent Chariots, “The automobile changed our dress, manners, social customs, vacation habits, the shape of our cities, consumer purchasing patterns, and positions in intercourse.” Some of us were even conceived in a parked car.

Parking requirements are particularly ill-advised because they directly subsidize cars. We drive to one place to do one thing and then to another place to do another thing and then drive a long way back home, parking free everywhere. A flood of recent research has shown that parking requirements poison our cities, increasing traffic congestion, polluting the air, encouraging sprawl, raising housing costs, degrading urban design, preventing walkability, damaging the economy, and penalizing everyone who cannot afford a car.

Despite all the harm off-street parking requirements cause, they are almost an established religion in city planning. Without a theory or data to support them, planners set parking requirements for hundreds of land uses in hundreds of cities—the ten thousand commandments of planning for parking. Planners have adopted a veneer of professional language to justify the practice, but planning for parking is learned only on the job and it is more a political activity than a professional skill.

One should not criticize anyone else’s religion, but I’m a protestant when it comes to parking requirements—and I believe city planning needs a reformation.

The price we really pay to park for nothing

America is a free country, and many people seem to think that means parking should be free. Parking requirements enable everyone to park free at everyone else’s expense and no one knows that anyone is paying anything. Parking is free, however, only because everything else is more expensive.

A recent study found that the parking spaces required for shopping centers in Los Angeles increase the cost of building a shopping center by 67 percent if the parking is in an aboveground structure and by 93 percent if the parking is underground. Retailers pass this high cost on to all shoppers, regardless of how they travel. People who cannot afford a car pay more for their groceries so richer people can park free when they drive to the store.

That’s true for housing, too. Small, spartan apartments cost less to build than large, luxury apartments, but their parking spaces cost the same. Because many cities require the same number of spaces for every apartment regardless of its size or quality, the required parking disproportionately increases the cost of low-income housing. One study found that minimum parking requirements raise housing costs by 13 percent for families without cars.

Indeed, a single parking space can cost more than the net worth of many U.S. households. One study found that in 2015 the average construction cost (excluding land cost) for parking structures was about $24,000 per space for aboveground parking and $34,000 per space for underground parking. By comparison, the U.S. Census of Wealth and Asset Ownership in 2015 found that the median net worth (the value of assets minus debts) was $110,500 for white households, $19,990 for Hispanic households and $12,780 for African American households. One space in a parking structure, therefore, costs more than the entire net worth of more than half of all Hispanic and black households in the country.

This mandate to provide homes for automobiles has devoured vast amounts of land. Parking lots typically have about 330 square feet per space. Because there are at least three off-street parking spaces per car in the United States, there are at least 990 square feet of off-street parking space per car. In comparison, there are about 800 square feet of housing space per person in the United States. The area of off-street parking per car is thus larger than the area of housing per human.

In astronomy, dark energy is a force that permeates space and causes the universe to expand. Similarly, in urban planning, parking requirements are a force that causes cities to expand. The higher the parking requirements, the stronger the dark energy that spreads cities out and rips them apart.

The most emotional topic in transportation

Few people are interested in parking itself, but parking strongly affects issues people do care strongly about, such as affordable housing, climate change, economic development, public transportation, traffic congestion, and urban design. Parking requirements reduce the supply and increase the price of housing. Parking subsidies lure people into cars from public transportation, bicycles, or their own two feet. Cruising for curb parking congests roads, pollutes the air, and adds greenhouse gases. Do people really want a drive-in dystopia more than they want affordable housing, clean air, walkable neighborhoods, good urban design, and a sustainable planet?

But most people consider parking a personal issue, not a policy problem. They follow the axiomatic observation of George Costanza in Seinfeld, who famously said that paying for parking was like going to a prostitute: “Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I can get it for free.”

We make more space for them than we do for us. (Bandar Aldandani/AFP/Getty Images)

Parking clouds people’s minds, shifting analytic faculties to a low level. Rational people quickly become emotional; staunch conservatives turn into ardent communists. Thinking about parking seems to take place in the reptilian cortex, the primitive part of the brain said to govern behavior like aggression, territoriality, and ritual display—all factors in parking.

Some strongly support market prices—except for parking. Some strongly oppose subsidies—except for parking. Some abhor planning regulations—except for parking. Some insist on rigorous data collection and statistical tests—except for parking. This exceptionalism has impoverished thinking about parking policies. If drivers paid the full cost of their parking, it would seem too expensive, so we expect someone else to pay for it. But a city where everyone happily pays for everyone else’s free parking is a fool’s paradise.

Off-street parking requirements are what engineers call a “kludge”—an awkward but temporarily effective solution to a problem. In this case, the problem they address is a shortage of free on-street parking. But severing the link between the cost of providing parking and the price that drivers pay for it increases the demand for cars, and when citizens object to the resulting traffic congestion, cities respond by restricting development to reduce traffic. In other words: Cities are limiting the density of people to limit the density of cars. Free parking has become the arbiter of urban form, and cars have replaced humans as zoning’s real density concern.

Planners typically assume that every new resident will come with a car, so they require developers to provide enough off-street parking to house all the cars. Ample free parking then ensures that most residents do want a car. Parking requirements thus result from a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Planners often use “motivated reasoning” to justify the parking requirements required by elected officials who want enough parking to ensure that citizens won’t yell about a shortage of free parking. Then they must fashion arguments for conclusions already reached. Assumptions are the starting point of most parking requirements, and the person who makes the assumptions determines the outcome. Instead of reasoning about parking requirements, planners must rationalize them, and feign expertise they do not have. I have never met a city planner who could explain why any parking requirement should not be higher or lower. To set them, planners usually take instructions from elected officials, copy other cities’ parking requirements, or rely on unreliable surveys. Parking requirements are closer to sorcery than to science.

The three essential parking reforms

The upside of parking requirements is that removing them can trigger a cascade of benefits: shorter commutes, less traffic, a healthier economy, a cleaner environment, and more affordable housing. Vast parking lots can evolve into real communities. There’s an accidental land reserve available for job-adjacent housing. If cities remove their parking requirements, we can reclaim land on a scale that will rival the Netherlands. Economic objectives often conflict with environmental objectives, but parking reforms can serve both.

To distill the 800 pages of my 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking into three bullet points, I recommended three parking reforms that can improve cities, the economy, and the environment:  

  1. Remove off-street parking requirements. Developers and businesses can then decide how many parking spaces to provide for their customers.
  2. Charge the right prices for on-street parking. The right prices are the lowest prices that will leave one or two open spaces on each block, so there will be no parking shortages. Prices will balance the demand and supply for on-street spaces.
  3. Spend the parking revenue to improve public services on the metered streets. If everybody sees their meter money at work, the new public services can make demand-based prices for on-street parking politically popular.

Each of these three policies supports the other two. Spending the meter revenue to improve neighborhood public services can create the necessary political support to charge the right prices for curb parking. If cities charge the right prices for curb parking to produce one or two open spaces on every block, no one can say there is a shortage of on-street parking. If there is no shortage of on-street parking, cities can then remove their off-street parking requirements. Finally, removing off-street parking requirements will increase the demand for on-street parking, increasing the revenue to pay for public services.

Assembling support for parking reform is like opening a combination lock: Each small turn of the dial seems to achieve nothing, but when everything is in place the lock opens. These three reforms can open the parking combination lock.

Some critics argue that removing an off-street parking requirement amounts to “social engineering” and a “war on cars.” Instead, off-street parking requirements are a socially engineered war for cars. Removing a requirement that restaurants provide 10 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area is no more a war on cars than removing a requirement that everyone must eat in restaurants 10 times a month would be a war on restaurants.

The parking revolution has already started

When The High Cost of Free Parking was published in 2005, half the city planning profession thought I was crazy and the other half thought I was daydreaming. Since then, several cities—including Buffalo, Hartford, Minneapolis, and San Francisco—have removed all their parking requirements, and many others have removed requirements in their downtowns. Mexico City has converted its minimum parking requirements into maximum parking limits while leaving the numbers almost unchanged. What once seemed politically impossible may slowly become the new normal.

Repealing off-street parking requirements and replacing them with market prices for on-street parking may at first glance seem like Prohibition, or the Reformation—too big an upheaval for society to accept. But it can attract voters across a wide political spectrum. Conservatives will see that it reduces government regulations. Liberals will see that it increases public spending. Environmentalists will see that it reduces energy consumption, air pollution, and carbon emissions. Urban designers will see that it enables people to live at higher density without being overrun by cars. Developers will see that it reduces building costs. Residents will see that it improves their neighborhood public services. Drivers of all political stripes will see that it guarantees convenient curb parking. Elected officials will see that it depoliticizes parking, reduces traffic congestion, allows infill development, and provides public services without raising taxes. Finally, planners can devote less time to parking and more time to improving cities.

Recognizing that our parking policies block progress toward many critical goals may help spark this planning reformation; simply improving parking policies could be the cheapest, quickest, and most politically feasible way to achieve many social, economic, and environmental goals. Cities will look and work much better when prices—not planners and politicians—govern decisions about the number of parking spaces. Like the automobile itself, parking is a good servant but a bad master.

This piece is adapted from Parking and the City (Routledge 2018).

1 day 4 hours ago
Courtesy of Krampe-Schmidt Architekten BDA Courtesy of Krampe-Schmidt Architekten BDA

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1 day 5 hours ago

On June 14, Stanlee Allyn Holbrook, a 26-year-old black mother, parked her car on the Homestead Bridge in Pittsburgh and then took her life by jumping into the Monongehela River below. Her three children were left in the car. A neighbor, Joanna D’Amico, told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Lacretia Wimbley that Holbrook was a disciplined caregiver for her kids. She didn’t understand why Holbrook committed suicide because she “didn’t show a sign that something was wrong.”

It may have been a sign that there is something tremendously wrong with Pittsburgh, though, for black women.

The city of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission released a white paper this week that shows just how stark African Americans’ chances for survival are in Pittsburgh. The findings for black women in particular are troubling. In evaluating how well life is going for Pittsburgh residents along the lines of gender and race, the study finds that white men and women are mostly enjoying either average or above-average standards of livability compared to other racial groups in the city.

However, “Pittsburgh is considerably less livable for black men than other similar cities … particularly true when it comes to health and employment outcomes,” reads the study. “Pittsburgh is arguably the most unlivable for black women.”

The word choice here is an obvious nod to the various “most livable city” superlatives that Pittsburgh has picked up in recent years. In fact, the University of Pittsburgh researchers who produced the study created an “Index of Ranked Livability” to measure how abundantly or poorly each demographic is doing within the broad categories of health, poverty/income, employment, and education, and along several dozen sub-categories.

The study focuses on six population groups: white men and women, black men and women, and the men and women of a third hybrid racial group called AMLON, an acronym for “Asian, Multiracial, Latinx, Other, Native American” (These racial categories are too small in numbers in Pittsburgh to be analyzed separately without compromising privacy concerns, according to the study).

The researchers looked at not only how each of these groups fared in livability compared to other race and gender population groups within Pittsburgh, but also in comparison to their peer demographic dates across 89 cities of similar size and characteristics nationwide. They also compare the index of racial and gender inequalities within Pittsburgh to those found in similar cities as well.

Overall, what they found was that Pittsburgh is a pretty average city along each of the livability categories, if you’re white. White Pittsburgh residents are doing about as well or bad as white people in other comparable cities. But for African Americans, here’s where the signs show trouble. Black people in just about every other comparable city in the U.S. are doing far better in terms of health, income, employment, and educational outcomes than black people living in Pittsburgh.

The signals are even more distressing for black girls and women, who suffer from higher poverty rates, birth defect rates, death rates, unemployment rates, and school arrest rates than black girls and women in just about every other city examined in this study. Outcomes for black men were only slightly better than for black women in just about every regard.

As University of Pittsburgh sociology professor Junia Howell, co-author of the white paper, told Public Source, “What this means is that if Black residents got up today and left and moved to the majority of any other cities in the U.S. … their life expectancy would go up, their income would go up, their educational opportunities for their children would go up, as well as their employment.”

We don’t know what drove Stanlee Allyn Holbrook to take her life earlier this summer. What we do know from the study is that in Pittsburgh, black women are more likely to commit suicide than black women in most other cities—distinct from white men who commit suicide at rates lower than white men in comparable cities.

It has been reported that, a year before she died, Holbrook gave birth to a premature baby in a city where 18 out of every 1,000 pregnancies for black women end in fetal death, compared to 9 in a 1,000 pregnancies for white women. Pittsburgh’s black fetal mortality rate is higher than it is in 94 percent of similar cities. The city’s black mothers give birth to babies of low birth weight at twice the rate that white mothers do, and it ranks in the bottom 25 percent of cities for black mothers experiencing low-birth weight for their babies.

Lack of prenatal care doesn’t explain the black women’s reproductive crisis in Pittsburgh. The study finds that black mothers start prenatal treatments at the same time as white and AMLON mothers, at ten weeks. In fact, researchers found that black women on average begin prenatal care sooner than black women do in 92 percent of other cities. Nor are the problems of low birth weight and other defects the result of educational or economic status. The racial disparities on this front existed for black women whether they were college graduates or WIC recipients. “Racial inequality, not education or income, drives the observed inequities,” reads the study.

Once a baby arrives, for white infants and AMLON infants, the chances of surviving past one year are good and better than the chances of babies born in most other cities. Even black male infants fare at about the same rate as black male infants in at least half of other cities. But not black female babies—they have a mortality rate that’s higher than that of black female infants in at least 70 percent of other cities.

But while education and economics don’t seem to affect the likelihood of miscarriage or the baby’s pre-birth survival, they do matter in the lives of black women in general. As far as income goes, black women are working with far less than members of any other racial group, male or female, within Pittsburgh. In fact, white men bring in twice as much income annually as black women in the city. But when it comes to their peers in other places, black women have lower poverty rates in 85 percent of comparable cities than black women in Pittsburgh. In fact, black women have higher median incomes in 90 percent of similar cities than do black Pittsburgh women.

When it comes to unemployment—specifically those outside of the workforce who are actively looking for a job—most of Pittsburgh’s racial groups lag behind their peers in other cities, including white men. But, once again, no one lags like black Pittsburgh women, who have a higher percentage of their population left jobless than black women in 97 percent of other peer cities. The unemployment crisis is also dire for black men, and neither are out of work for lack of trying—the gap between white and black employment in Pittsburgh is higher than that of 85 percent of the other cities studied, leading the report to project that “Pittsburgh’s strikingly low black employment is likely not due to the city’s economy, but the failure of employers to hire black workers who are seeking jobs.”

The one area where African Americans do well in Pittsburgh is educational achievement, particularly among black men. The report notes that there are more college-educated African American men in Pittsburgh than there are in 60 percent of its fellow cities; that ranking rises even higher for black men with graduate degrees.

The caveat here is that, of course, not all black men in Pittsburgh’s grad schools are actually from Pittsburgh. Junia Howell told CityLab that they weren’t “able to distinguish between those who grew up in Pittsburgh from those who relocate to Pittsburgh for college, graduate school, or work.”

For black women in Pittsburgh, the education story is less optimistic: They have lower college completion rates than black women in 60 percent of other comparable cities.  

But before black women in Pittsburgh even get to college, before they become the mothers and the motherless, the employed and the unemployed, they are targeted as teens, often in their own schools. There is no city in Pennsylvania where schools refer students to the police like Pittsburgh, and there are few cities in the United States that do worse when it comes to siccing police on students, no matter the race. But once again, black girls in Pittsburgh schools suffer the worst from this: Pittsburgh refers more black girls to police than is true for 99 percent of similar cities.  

One black woman in Pittsburgh who understands more than most how black boys and girls are overpoliced is Melanie Carter, a prominent Pittsburgh racial justice activist and rapper who goes by the name Black Rapp M.A.D.U.S.A. She works with black youth through a local organization called 1Hood Media. In 2017, she was thrown to the ground and arrested for disorderly conduct by a police officer after she video-recorded cops who were harassing black teenagers at a local movie theater. Her video, which showed a police officer calling the young black people “animals” at the theater, went viral.

The charges against her were dropped earlier this year, and, with the Abolitionist Law Center, Carter is now suing the police department in federal court. But as she told a local media outlet: “We have to re-humanize black women and girls. We have to protect black women and girls.”

It probably didn’t take this Pittsburgh study for her and thousands of black women across the city to realize this.