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The hypocrisy of parking minimums

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Earlier today, Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star published a review of The Residences at RCMI building currently under construction on University Avenue. He gave the building a ‘B’ grade. 

His main criticism was the faux facade that has been integrated into the base of the building:

Then there’s the question of the historic 1907 building the RCMI occupied until recently. Though listed as a heritage site in 1973, the city approved its demolition. Planners also allowed the neo-classical front façade to be replaced with a replica that will fool no one, another example of the city talking out of both sides of its mouth.

But faux facades aside, one of the things that makes this development project unique in Toronto is actually something that you can’t see from the outside: there’s no resident parking. Apparently there’s 9 spots for deliveries and other short-term uses, but for the 315 suites in the building there’s no parking.

Depending on where in the world you’re from this may not seem like a big deal. I’ve written before about minimum and maximum parking requirements, and how some cities – such as Berlin – don’t have them. But here in Toronto, we do. And the city generally takes them very seriously.

“To assume a residential development of the project’s scale might be totally car-free runs counter to expert study and experience,” municipal staffers argued. “Although there are many households in the downtown without cars, it would be highly unlikely to find 315 of them permanently concentrated in one building.”

The fact planners were dead wrong is a shocking sign of a department either out of touch or that doesn’t believe its own hype.

In so many ways – as Hume pointed out in his article – this is complete hypocrisy. We’re always talking about building walkable communities and encouraging alternate forms of mobility, but when it comes time to build anything new, we force a certain number of parking spots to be included. And so we end up encouraging the exact opposite.

This also has a significant impact on the way we build our cities. Parking minimums can actually render smaller sites “undevelopable” simply because there isn’t enough room to lay out the required parking. In fact, it might surprise you how much of what we do ends up being governed by cars, parking, and traffic.

That’s why I think this image is so impactful:

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But I’m certain that a lot of this will change as Toronto continues to grow. Progressive cities all around the world are rethinking their positions on parking, and on cars in general.

Earlier this year Sao Paulo joined the club and got rid of parking minimums for sites along major transit corridors. And they actually imposed a parking maximum: 1 spot per residence. The expectation is that this will reduce traffic and improve housing affordability.

Parking minimums may not seem like a big deal, but the reality is that their impacts are far reaching. They change development patterns, they change project economics, and they send a message about the kind of city you hope to build.

Image: Looking south on University Avenue in Toronto (Flickr)

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