The Art and Science of Parking in Chicago

Demand for parking in new Chicago apartment building drops, and the drop all comes from renters, not buyers. Millennials just aren’t buying cars, so expect the trend to continue… and, hopefully, make architecture better.

Reserved Parking

 

Would you believe me if I said this Crain’s story is making news?

“Parking demand declines at new buildings”:

The decline seems to be limited to renters, with no significant drop in demand among condo owners, Mr. Gordon says. “People feel like if you have a condo, you need the parking space for resale value,” he says.

According to the city’s zoning code, the required parking for new residential buildings downtown ranges from 0.55 to one space per unit, depending on location.

Sounds dry, I know, but I’m seeing it around, because it brings up some important issues. Here’s Matt Yglesias, author of the recent The Rent Is Too Damn High and Slate’s “Moneybox” column, who looks at it from the rent-is-too-damn-high angle:

One natural response would be for developers to build less parking in the future, thus allowing them to either put up more housing units or make the units cheaper. But that response is actually unlikely to occur because “the required parking for new residential buildings downtown ranges from 0.55 to one space per unit, depending on location.”

And Streetsblog, which calls the requirement an “out of date relic”:

The good news: Demand for parking spaces is down among residents of central Chicago. But here’s the bad news: The city of Chicago still requires lots of parking.

And Transport Nexus, on the “pernicious effect of parking minimums”:

Because of the over supply of residential parking downtown as mandated by zoning, parking is artificially cheaper than it should be. This, of course, encourages greater auto use in the densest part of the city, the part in which public transportation of various modes operate at a very high frequency practically around the clock.

Policy aside, it reminded me of Jordan Weissman’s post “Why Don’t Young Americans Buy Cars?” This weekend my friends and I were discussing the wonders of car technology, in the wake of my friend finally sending his ancient pickup to a nice farm out in the country, and we realized that none of us had even been in a new car recently, much less bought one. All the rear-view cameras and seat-mounted televisions? None of us, urbanites all, had ever experienced them outside of a television commercial. The Jetta I married into has a cassette deck (though I was surprised to learn that Lexus had them until 2010—lots of books on tape out there, I guess).

Weissman’s explanations are sensible, and about what you’d guess from following the news or being a carless youngster: less need for cars thanks to the magnet of urban life and the “new urbanization” of suburbs, and more need to avoid additional debt. But as always, it was refreshing to see my anecdata IRL. If parking mandates are antiquated, it might not be just because we have cutting-edge parking science now; it might be just because we need less parking.

Being a terminal dilletante aesthete, one of my problems with parking minimums is the burden it puts on architects. Streetsblog illustrates the post with Marina City, which is the most famous and most elegant solution to skyscraper parking. Many a building has been made worse by what Blair Kamin calls “street-deadening parking decks.” But reading up on Mies last night led me through Chicago’s top-40 buildings, which I hadn’t seen in awhile, and I was pleased to see Perkins + Will’s 2004 Contemporaine on the list, which you may recognize as the elegantly light brutalist building next to the River North Binny’s (photographs: Todd Urban).

Contemporaine chicago

I like their solution to the parking ramp: it gives their concrete-and-glass box some movement and breaks the horizontal lines. I walk or ride the bus by the Contemporaine almost every day, and I’m impressed by it every time.

 

Photograph: -Tripp- (CC by 2.0)

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