Park the urban sprawl – how parking shapes our cities

The Herald reports the government has been criticizing Auckland Council for its new spatial plan. The government says the spatial plan places too much emphasis on improving public transport and creating a compact urban form (as if they’re bad!).

The government is implying that the council is trying to force a particular type of development on Auckland – rather than leaving it up to the market.

It’s ironic the government is saying this when, in fact, Auckland’s sprawl is no accident and has little to do with market forces. Instead it is largely due to successive governments unbalanced transport funding policies which have prioritized motorways above all else and over-regulation by the council.

One regulation that drives sprawling development is minimum parking requirements. Whenever I try to explain what minimum parking requirements are peoples’ eyes glaze over and I can see I’m losing them. So here’s a real life example:

Imagine that you’re a developer and you want to take over one of the car yards on Great North Road and turn it into a 4 story development. This development would consist of say 10 apartments. The apartments are 2 bedroom – your market is couples, singletons and young families.

Your development is 2 minutes from a bus stop on Great North Road (one of the most regular bus services in Auckland) which will get the residents of your apartment into the CBD or to the university in 15 minutes.

It is also 7 minutes walk to the local supermarket, 10 minutes from the Grey Lynn library and doctor’s, and 10 minutes walk to the Kingsland rail station.

And it’s just 5 minutes bike or 20 minutes walk to the restaurants and pubs of Ponsonby and K Road. There are various primary schools in the vicinity and some good high schools a short bus trip away.

In short, this is an incredibly accessible location. Many people living in this area might well choose to live without a car.

Building carparking is expensive so you want to offer resident a choice You will build just a few carparks and offer apartments with a carpark at a higher price. Apartments without a carpark will be cheaper.

But the council declines your resource consent application. They say that by council regulation you are required to provide at least 1 carpark for every apartment in the building (more if it’s a big apartment).

To provide those carparks you’re probably going to have to either a) build an underground basement or b) devote one story of your whole building to carparks.

That drives the cost of your development up immensely. It also means that all the potential buyers for your apartments have to pay a higher price – regardless of whether they want a carpark.

You crunch the numbers and decide your development is not economically viable – instead you decide to look at building some detached town houses in a greenfield site on the fringe of Auckland.

The government likes to talk about cutting needless regulation.  Minimum parking requirements are the type of regulation we need to cut.

New Zealanders often talk about how vibrant and fun Wellington City is compared to our other big New Zealand cities. People don’t know why – they just know they like the Wellington CBD. It has so many cool pubs and cafes. It is fun to walk around. It has such high rates of public transport use.

Well, one of the main reasons is that Wellington City Council got rid of all their minimum parking requirements in their CBD in the 1990s.

Rather than criticizing Auckland Council for trying to create a compact city, central government should be listening to Auckland and encouraging the council to get rid of minimum parking requirements and other planning regulations that encourage car dependency and discourage medium density housing.

Otherwise our hopes of providing affordable accessible housing for the 900,000 people projected to move to Auckland over the next 30 years are very slim indeed.

7 Comments Posted

  1. “New Zealanders often talk about how vibrant and fun Wellington City is compared to our other big New Zealand cities. People don’t know why – they just know they like the Wellington CBD.”

    It is because capital cities have far higher concentrations of employment in their CBDs compared to other cities, so there are more people there. The geography helps, because it is hemmed in. The parking had little to do with it, that was introduced in the late 1980s, Wellington didn’t suddenly change then. What was more significant was Saturday and Sunday shop opening hours, which suddenly made the CBD alive in weekends, rather than people venturing out to Coastlands!

    By the way, New Zealand could do worse than look at SFPark and the LA equivalent ExpressPark, as examples of dynamic parking management. Both could add a huge amount of value in ensuring parking availability, and matching demand, supply and price.

  2. Trevor — Wellington can still vastly improve its parking management, to ensure there is always an available spot near where you need to go.

    The main point is that increasing the supply of parking blindly through regulations in plans isn’t going to help.

    We need to use prices to actively manage demand: like this:

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head. Incentives drive development, if you want to change how cities develop change the incentives.

  4. I remember trying to visit a building in Wellington to repair some electronic equipment – a task that requires a number of tools, not all of which can be anticipated in advance. Trying to get a car park within a reasonable walking distance was a nighmare.

    Even in Christchurch I have had problems. I wasn’t favourably impressed by the manager at one site I needed to visit when – having made an appointment and turned up loaded with the minimum tools to do the work (I hoped) – she cancelled due to another visitor wanting to see her without an appointment. It was some time before I returned with my tools…


  5. Great post Gareth! To think, such a development with lower parking requirements could also offer a car share option to those not wishing to own a car, let alone a car park.

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