As older, inner and middle suburbs age, their big-box stores and strip centers offer opportunities for higher density, mixed-use, transit-oriented, and pedestrian-friendly re-development projects.
One of the key obstacles in these projects is parking. Minimum parking requirements have been instrumental in creating sprawl development, yet changing course remains a challenge.
Traditional neighborhood development, or TND, is a more productive use of land than conventional suburban development, or CSD, according to “Smart Growth & Conventional Suburban Development,” by Jonathan Ford, PE. This report compared the two dominant modes of developing our cities and concluded that TND “results in infrastructure systems that serve more development in proportion to their cost to construct.” Often called “New Urbanist” development, TND provides more value per dollar invested, Ford noted.
According to the report, TND can reduce the need for parking by 40-60 percent, partly because “CSD requires far greater investment in parking lots to serve single-use buildings in automobile only transportation networks.” How does TND do this?
On-street parking satisfies a large percentage of parking demand. In addition, the report states that “Reduced parking requirements and shared parking strategies due to mixing of uses and compact urban form also contribute to reduce parking requirements in TND developments.”
D. Jamie Rusin addressed parking in “New Suburbanism: Reinventing Inner-Ring Suburbs,” published in Urban Land magazine. “A multipronged approach is required—one that reduces demand and slowly introduces paid parking,” he wrote. “Key elements include understanding differences among markets, unbundling the cost of parking from the associated use, and eliminating minimum parking requirements.”
When minimum parking requirements are eliminated, much more land becomes available for more productive and profitable uses. In typical suburban development projects, surface parking sufficient for the busiest days of the year is required, though much of the time it is unused. Using that land for retail space, office space, and parks is higher value development, but parking will still be needed.
Parking structures can solve the problem, and though they use land more efficiently, their cost can sink a project. That’s where the municipality comes in. “Currently, most structured parking needs a public financing component in order to pencil out,” Rusin wrote.
In multi-use neighborhoods, parking permits are often necessary to ensure on-street parking remains available for residents. Increasing the density of development brings all functions into closer proximity, so if there are too few designated parking spots for shoppers, they might spill onto the nearby streets.
In Australia, robust growth has driven both urban and suburban development. The Grattan Institute published a report titled “Tomorrow’s Suburbs: Building Flexible Neighborhoods,” that examined some challenges to Australian development.
The authors noted that land use in Melbourne has shown flexibility since the developments of the 1950s. Over time, older suburbs adapted readily to changes in use, such as light industry changing over to office space. “More than a quarter (27 per cent) of the entire developed area of 1951 had changed use by 2005,” the report states.
Unfortunately, newer developments and suburbs are more heavily residential and show less flexibility for redevelopment and changes in land use. “In 1951, non-residential land made up 42 per cent of the city. In 2005, only 25 per cent of newer suburbs (built since 1971) were non-residential.”
Nonetheless, some creative infill projects are underway and planned, such as the Edmonson Park Town Centre. Designated as one of Sydney’s “growth areas,” the project incorporates compact development, a town centre, rail line, and extensive parkland and open space.