[Originally written by Jason King]
One of those age-old dilemmas of urban infill development is coming to bear on a particular area of Portland, which has always seemed immune to the inane “development must have parking” issues. Guess not, as there has been a multitude of backlash related to a series of projects along SE Division Street. Some of these projects include parking, while others are going the way of no parking, which is not required as part of the development. The fundamental question becomes whether the requirements of minimum parking, maximum parking, or in these cases no parking, provide a balance between space for livability, or do they degrade the quality of the neighborhood for existing residents. Parking is never free, for residents or developers, and space is at a premium in cities, so every square foot counts.
Ghost Parking Lot – James Wines (1978)
As the Willamette Week mentions: “Some Southeast Portland neighbors are asking the city to freeze construction along Division Street, hoping to halt the boom in apartment buildings without on-site parking. Their latest objection? A four-story, 81-unit apartment complex at Southeast 37th Avenue and Division Street, already permitted on the former site of the Egyptian Club. Neighborhood advocates all over the east side are complaining about infill apartments and the parking headaches that follow. “Our neighborhood will be a congestion nightmare next summer and never the same after that,” Richmond neighborhood resident and novelist Richard Melo wrote Aug. 2 to City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the Bureau of Development Services, adding that the current course is turning the area into “a national case study for unchecked urban development.” Saltzman’s office declined to comment.”
Portland Architecture picked up the thread in a post that discusses the idea of parking in the urban realm, author Brian Libby referencing the WW story, and an email from mayoral hopeful Charlie Hales, both discussing the need to study the connection between parking requirements. From the Hales memo, quoted in Portland Architecture:
“In our desire to support urban living and non-auto transportation, have we gone too far? When we first started trying to fit new mixed-use development into streets like Belmont, Division and Alberta, parking was a challenge, but in a very different way than today. Our struggle then was to get developers and banks to accept less parking than would be typical in suburbia. Now, the world has changed. Banks are today willing to lend on apartment projects with no parking provided. While this has resulted in affordable projects for those without cars, there are other unintended consequences impacting neighborhoods in ways that need to be carefully assessed.”
I expect to hear more on this, and it’s a bit disheartening to see this becoming even an issue, much less a talking point. Aren’t there better things to deal with in Portland than adding more parking? Libby concludes with what we all have experienced, the interplay of desirability of destinations and the role of parking. Neighborhoods where great restaurants or destinations exist make it worth a few trips around the block – and I’d say even make it worth it if you live there. As mentioned, the issue is most present in Northwest 23rd, the hotbed of trendy eateries and shops, and horrible parking issues.
“I think of the trolling we all do when we go to Northwest 23rd. But 23rd is ultimately getting a parking garage – not an eyesore of multistory concrete, but one thoughtfully tucked away. I think that’s a better solution than restricting apartment and condominium projects because they’ll add neighborhood congestion or requiring new developments to build their own parking, as we once did. Nobody likes parking, but it’s a bit of a Catch-22 situation here: the more you build parking, the less likely it is to be a place where people want to go – and park, and spend money, and contribute to a vibrant local economy. Portland has long since committed itself to density over sprawl, and we can’t have it both ways. And I’d rather we be more Zurich than, say, Houston or Toledo.”
One interesting link from Portland Architecture is to an article about Zurich from Atlantic Cities, which struggled with and eventually came to a compromise on minimum and maximum parking allowances that significantly reduced wasted space to parking in the city center. The authors of the study, from University of Connecticut, also find an interesting correlation between density and parking availability in US cities, finding:
“…that cities with higher levels of automobile use generally supply more parking, perhaps as would be expected. But what is unexpected is the degree to which these cities also have a much lower density of what matters in cities, residents and jobs (see the figure below). American cities in our study with small numbers of parking spaces have two to four times more people per square mile. This seems to have a lot to do with the amount of space that is needed for parking. In other words, space used for parking is simply not available for more productive uses.”
Some developers have looked at alternatives, such as the development at 20th and Hawthorne, which implemented a car stacking ‘matrix’ that provides additional off-street parking for residents – as seen on the video below.
These systems have a higher up-front cost, and that is passed along to residents, who pay a premium for off-street parking. Maybe it’s worth it, but it also leads to less affordability of housing, as those costs are borne by renters, not by neighbors. Back on Division, a parking lot rehab next to the Bella Institute at 22nd and Division offers a potential solution. The school operates during the day, and parking is used for their students and faculty. In the evening, where demand for parking is more at a premium, the lot offers a pay-to-park option, which gives additional capacity. Plus, the new pavement is all permeable paving. I’m not a fan of surface lots, but some inventive parking shared options for facilities like daytime office, churches, etc. might gap some of the more significant impacts. It’s not a site-by-site issue, but rather looking at the big picture.
On the Division and other streets coming soon, and related topic to be explored further here at THINK.urban, the City of Portland is starting it’s new program, Street Seats, which is liberally borrowed from San Francisco’s program of Parklets. From PBOTs website, the Street Seats allow adjacent owners to “build a temporary platform in the on-street parking lane. The platform is the same height as the curb and extends the sidewalk space in order to add additional outdoor seating along the street.” I think the ideas are great, but they do result in lest parking, much like other measures such as street bulb-outs, green street swales, bike corrals, and other elements all competing for space in the ROW.
Street seat at Wafu on SE Division
In the end, the question of dense urbanity and room for people, cars, quiet, and access is going to continue to be an issue. Right now it’s a developer decision to include parking or not, and it should stay that way, if someone is interested in providing that amenity. Or heck, go ahead and require the parking, it will just result in more inventive ‘jams’ for the the system – creating inventive methods of co-opting parking spaces, such as using the spots for urban camping – I guess a form of subsidized housing. Parking? Sure, let’s just make it parking day, every day.