Last week we tweeted a link to a really interesting article about minimum requirements, but didn’t follow it up with a post – until now.
Two parking spaces per unit in the Mixed Housing zone is a recipe for “Dingbat” developments: http://t.co/2c1weu4q2r
— AkTransportBlog (@AkTransportBlog) June 18, 2013
The article highlights how certain planning rules have unintended consequences of forcing particularly bad urban amenity outcomes – even if they’re actually intended to improve things. Minimum parking requirements are the prime, but not sole, offender in this regards:
Cities have established parking regulations, often called off-street parking minimums, for each possible land use. When you build a new house or shop, or often when you simply remodel a building or change its use, you must provide a minimum number of off-street parking spaces. These regulations are meant to address demand for parking that cannot be met by nearby on-street spaces, but they have also led to increased development costs, less flexibility for adaptive reuse of existing buildings, and some pretty unattractive architecture.
The post walks us through a number of examples from the Northwest USA which highlight the extent to which parking minimums more than anything else end up determining the built form. For commercial buildings (i.e. retail, office and other employment activity) parking minimums often result in far more land being required for parking than the actual use itself. Buildings end up being set back so far it’s difficult to figure out what type of business operates there:
However, it seems that the urban form where parking minimums potentially have the most significant impact are medium to high density residential developments that are fairly low rise:
Before parking minimums, buildings in Cascadia could be built to the property line because parking wasn’t a constraint. Now, developers must contend with building heights, setbacks for buildings, and parking regulations—all of which make it harder to develop affordable housing projects. This is especially true at medium densities and lower building heights because it’s harder to make parking garages or underground parking pencil for these smaller projects.
Given the somewhat irrational fear of height that many Aucklanders appear to have, achieving quality low-rise intensification will be utterly crucial for the Unitary Plan to be successful. Quality low-rise, medium-density development is the key intention of the Mixed Housing zone – the zone which covers the greatest part of urban Auckland of any zone.
However, parking minimums don’t seem to work very well (especially not at two spaces per unit as currently required in the Mixed Housing zone for 2 bedrooms or more) in fostering good quality intensification – as the article highlights:This building type is somewhat unaffectionately called “Dingbats”, described later on in the article as “not a building type at all but, rather, a parking diagram that people happen to live above”. Most are hideously ugly:
And if it’s not Dingbats which are forced by parking minimums, then it’s generally urban form outcomes which look like motel units:By way of contrast, traditional built forms without off-street parking at similar densities produce really amazing urban landscapes:As we’ve noted on this blog many times before, Auckland’s intensification is likely to need to focus on providing more “middle density” developments than we have done so historically. There are a lot of potentially fantastic typologies between the standalone house on 350 square metres of land and the medium-rise apartment. The Mixed Housing zone seems intended to encourage the exploration of these middle densities.
Yet what’s clear from looking at international examples is that achieving high quality outcomes at middle densities will be completely undermined by the Mixed Housing zone requiring two off-street carparks per unit (two bedrooms or more, smaller ones get away with a minimum of one space). Sending the parking underground just isn’t going to stack up for many of these developments, because they’re quite small in scale. This means we’re pretty likely to end up with Dingbats, Motel Courts and ‘Garagescapes’ (explained later in the article), and yet more ‘Junkspace’ if parking minimums are retained in this zone.