Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mandatory parking requirements, or, How to kill your Downtown real fast without even trying, Part 1.

One of the neat things about Moncton is that, unlike a lot of cities, they don’t require parking if you want to build something Downtown. This is something that shocks people when they call to ask about development rules because it seems that a lot of cities still make you put in X amount of parking, even if it’s right in your central business district. Moncton doesn’t do that. The minimum parking ratio for a development in Moncton’s Downtown is zero.

And as a result, Moncton has seen a lot of good urban development in its downtown core over the past five or six years. For instance, this office building extension was built on the existing building's parking lot.

By making parking optional, it allows developments to happen that couldn’t happen in a city that requires X number of parking stalls for every square foot of floor area.

But every now and then, someone comes along and says, “I had trouble finding a free parking space in the middle of the business day! Don’t builders have to put in parking? Why the hell not?” And they’re outraged and they make a lot of noise.

The short answer is, If your goal is to destroy your Downtown, then by all means impose a minimum parking requirement.

Here’s Main Street in Moncton.

It’s very small—really just five or six blocks. It is, by all accounts, a pretty successful place. It’s mostly bars and restaurants at street level, supported by a lot of office space. There’s not much in the way of retail. But it is a very pleasant urban space. It’s not Paris but for a small-town North American Main Street at the end of almost a century of automobile-dominated urban planning, it is doing very well indeed.

Now, Moncton’s Downtown is actually much, much larger than just this stretch of Main Street. It actually occupies almost the the entire area that was built up by about 1920. And once you get off Main Street, Downtown is a mixed bag. There’s a lot of area that’s been bulldozed for parking.

There are some residential areas and some secondary commercial areas. Some of them are really nice.

Some have seen better days, but have "good bones" and a lot of potential:

And some... well, the less said the better:

But in Main Street we have the seed of a proper Downtown—something around which to crystallize. There was a big design charrette for Moncton’s Downtown in 2006, and there were a lot of opinions and lots of discussion but one thing everybody agreed on is, “We want more of this:”

We want more of the kind of thing we already have on Main Street.

Now, you can build more Main Street, as long as you’re willing to accept some tradeoffs. There are obstacles and complications but you can work around them. But one thing you can’t work around is this: the instant you impose a parking requirement, it’s completely doomed. You may get development in your Downtown but it will be Downtown in name only.

In the next post I'll explain why.

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