There is a huge difference between living on a street and living on a parking lot. It is that simple. When built in 200 plus unit apartment projects, multifamily housing projects can quickly become brutal in their lack of a sense of place. The design strategy of creating a gated community or a cul-de-sac project that has no connection to the city by street grid is often sold as a “secure design.” In reality, projects are only as secure as the number of eyes on the public areas and streets. Cul-de-sac designs actually isolate apartments, making it easier for crime to occur. Connecting to a street grid creates easy surveillance by pedestrians, cars driving through and by other apartment dwellers. Emergency call response times are faster, discouraging crime. Connectivity, combined with on street parking slows traffic, creates shorter trips, makes walking or biking to the store possible and promotes economic development. Street lighting and lighting of sidewalks are a critical part of what makes the street work as a secure, walkable living street. Most multifamily projects, except in developed urban areas, can’t get by with only on-street parking. At CityView in North Kansas City the combination of on-street, garage, and small lot parking is used to meet the project parking needs. The on-street parking is always used with the parking lots showing only 50% utilization. In future phases we are increasing density and utilizing the excess parking.
As a developer or a tenant utilization of street right of way for parking is a win, win. The developer reduces costs for parking and is able to build more units. The tenant gets lower rents, more green space and greater convenience. Apartments are more desirable to people of all incomes without extra burden of parking costs. Active, vibrant communities develop when the streets are a place of meeting and interaction versus high speed danger zones. We have found that the typical parking ratios required by municipalities create excess parking. This is true especially in multifamily housing. Generally, parking requirements based on worst case all units occupied and every adult driving a car creates way too many spaces. One planning tool that is helpful is to designate a planned district where the architect, developer and planner can determine the parking ratio outside of municipal standards with reductions being allowed for adjacency to transit corridors, shared parking analysis and more realistic requirements based on tenant income.
Why has this development pattern for multifamily housing been slow to be accepted? There are always concerns by adjacent land owners over perceived nuisance and property value degradation. These predictions typically are not borne out but are merely resistance to change and progressive ideas. Aesthetic concerns have been cited as the street view would be cluttered with cars. Not every street is a parkway nor should it be. Often high speed of street traffic prohibits safe parking, as arterial streets dominate the grid with cul-de-sac development filling in the blocks in lieu of connected streets. Development patterns zoning ordinances and land use planning can segregate apartment development to outlying parcels where no street grid exists, so the developer would be building streets. Well, it is cheaper to build a parking lot and call it good. Planners need to look at the big picture and allow for mixed housing types, connected neighborhoods and through streets regardless of use.