For many American cities, the result of regulations that place the automobile at the center of life and people and activity on the periphery have been a proliferations of huge parking lots, served by stroads or other very wide streets. In many cities, up to a quarter of the land area is devoted to parking. Streetsblog has labeled these sorts of non-places “parking craters“. Thankfully, Boston was spared the worst of the disaster.
But there are still plenty of large surface parking lots in Boston, parking lots sitting on scarce land and serving to encourage driving, not least because zoning ordinances require parking to be provided, creating an indirect subsidy. In recent years, things have started to change and lots on the South Boston waterfront have been filled in with buildings (not that they have reduced the amount of parking, they just put it out of sight).
Parking, however, remains a controversial topic, with City officials encountering steep resistance to reductions in mandatory parking minimums and encouragement of car-sharing services like Enterprise and ZipCar, and citizens completely rejecting the research of people like Donald Shoup.
In Munich, however, officials have been bolder. According Feargus O’Sullivan, writing in CityLab, the city is going to start building affordable housing over some of the parking lots it owns. According to O’Sullivan, the four story building will be wood-framed with 120 apartments and be built quickly and inexpensively thanks to prefabrication.
It’s a good model the City of Boston could follow, in partnership with community development corporations or even private developers, to say nothing of other public or private non-profit institutions in the City. What would make the most sense is for the property closest to the core be developed with the most affordable units and propertties further out have more market-rate units.
For example, one of the largest parking lots in the City is in West Roxbury, serving the Veterans’ Administration Hospital there, but transportation is very poor, with just two very infrequent buses. According to the Access Boston report from 2002, the Boston Transportation Department owned 34 parking lots, totalling 1,547 spaces. Boston Public Schools and the Boston Housing Authority also control surface parking lots.
Most of the City’s surface parking, however, is either in institutional or private hands, especially shopping centers. This doesn’t make it any less viable for development, but does limit the City’s ability to build affordable housing over parking lots — although the institutions, like the hospitals and colleges, may be more willing partners.
Machinery storage should not take precedence over housing.