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Aaron M. Renn

Interesting study, I'll have to read it.

However, I do find it odd that a study which shows urban living has a higher environmental footprint than others is explained away by reference to a external variable. Consider: how often are we told that urban living has a lower carbon footprint or some such. If things like the affluence of inner cities can vitiate studies that show a negative outcome for urban areas, then dittos for studies that show positive results for urban living, which leaves us, well, nowhere.

ws

I'm no fan of Kotkin, but I recall reading a Cox article not too long ago that discussed the same thing, and in a reference link by Cox to an Australian article (I think he helped conduct the study) it showed that urban lifestyles showed that many of them own one or more homes, therefore their per-capita energy use was higher than that of suburban dwellers due to their consumptive habits.

So, I like Kotkin's "skewing" of facts a bit more than that article. My intelligence is a little less insulted, at least.

I think that once we get into the nitty gritty of energy use / consumption, we need to separate implicit values such as building footprint with that of more subjective ones as individual consumption (in your case, a vacuum cleaner, but who's to say a person doesn't own one or pays a neighbor to clean their apartment, etc.).

But your point is valid.

I'd also like to see studies about the long-term energy use of buildings. Steel and glass are probably going to consume a lot of energy in their making vs. a typical wood structure, but on the upside, steel and glass can last a very long time vs. a wood-frame structure and it will presumably have less repairs. That will play a large factor down the road rather than right when it's built.

Resource extraction and its subsequent environmental impact should also be considered when we get into the material palette of highly urbanized intensive buildings. I have yet to see a study that really looked at these things.

In addition to these points, there has to be a damn criteria for determining what is dense! People say low density and high density without some sort of baseline or criteria. I am guilty of it too, but it's still annoying.

I think people do not even know the basics to what is dense or what is not dense, and they might be surprised that the 1920s 5-story apartment is just as dense or just about as dense as that glitzy condo unit that is 20+ stories high.

I think there's a case to be made of inner city housing that is suitable for families, and as you put it, families and people that want to have less of a stranger relationship and more of a community.

rhywun

It's useless to make these sorts of comparisons without factoring out such variables as family size and income. In other words, compare a single person living in Manhattan vs. Levittown, not four single persons with a four-member family.

Maxq

I think a lot of people aren't using the Australian study correctly.... especially the way it's used in Newgeography. When Joel complained about 'stuffing people into central cities', the study instead says to stuff as many people into one household as possible.... which sounds better to you?
What does the study NOT take into account? Things like not buying a car because I live in the city... think of the effect of the environment just by this one thing....secondly, people in condos cannot buy all the crap that people buy who live in a house... simply for the reason there is no where to put it (part of the solution in the study is to buy less... city people do!)... thirdly... my condo is 43 storeys, 373 units... what was not compared against was a subdivision of 373 houses.... street lighting, asphalt for the roads (snow clearance in winter for us up north).... road repairs that do not need to be done... lawns that do not need mowing (lawnmowers are worse emitters than cars)... condo lifestyle does not require the purchase of gardening equipment, there are not 373 roofs to be repaired, 373 driveways to be sealed or repaved (the trip to the hardware store that is not taken)... you get the idea

Corey Burger

Lovely, except that the margin ecological costs of less dense living are not broken out. Specifically, most of those items have transportation costs associated with them.

Nor do I see the larger societal picture: driving makes you fat. People who drive less, are in general fitter. Even in a non-socialized system like the US, everybody pays for everybody else's poor health. And yes, I recognize that wasn't the focus of the study, but any further analysis comparing two modes of living must include societal and economic costs.

smably

Car-free condos may be hard to find, but I know at least one exists in Toronto, because it was in the news last year:
http://www.thestar.com/article/696394

City staff recommended against approving it, but the politicians had a little more vision, fortunately, and it is now going ahead. With more intelligent planning (such as parking caps, instead of minimum requirements), I suspect we would see more projects like this.

Alon Levy

Does eco-footprint actually mean carbon footprint, or overall consumption? I'm asking because the figure used for carbon footprint is different. Glaeser's research on comparable footprints says that 20% of the total GHG emissions in the US are transportation plus residential electricity. (His popular article says 40%, but the dataset he uses says 20%, I believe). He concludes that on transportation and electricity, building new homes in the inner cities would be much less GHG-intensive than building them in the suburbs. Of course, Glaeser is a conservative booster just like Kotkin, so his prescribed solution is more deregulation and less government controls in inner cities, especially in mild-climate California, but strong land use controls, as in Hong Kong, would work just as well.

Jarrett

@ Alon Levy. The Consuming Australia study looks at a combined footprint including carbon emissions but also consumption of land, water and power. Power is coal in Australia, so very bound up with emissions. Australia's rain is so unreliable that water is increasingly about desalination of ocean water, which takes a lot of power, i.e. a lot of coal.

Alon Levy

Fair enough...

I've just double-checked and it turns out that for CO2 emissions in the US, more than half are residential plus transportation (click on "Figure data" underneath the graph). In 2007, transportation alone accounted for 2,014 million metric tons of CO2 (of which 4.22 were from electrified transportation) out of a national total of 5,991, and residential emissions accounted for another 1,250.

If you include all GHG, the national total in the US was 7,200 million, so transportation plus residential was just under 50%, not just above 50%. Still, not something to laugh at as Kotkin does.

dejv
But would there really be no market for a highrise development in which each floor had a small room containing an iron, an ironing board, and a vacuum cleaner, which anyone on the floor could use briefly as needed?
No. Communist-era tower-blocks were designed like this and all the common stuff was in bad condition. In addition I can't see much room for energy savings here because life span of most appliances is limited by service-hours, so it doesn't really matter if three units buy three irons with lifespan of 6 years each or just one that's dead after two years.
Paul

"In addition to these points, there has to be a damn criteria for determining what is dense! People say low density and high density without some sort of baseline or criteria. I am guilty of it too, but it's still annoying."

This is a good point what does constitute high density.

Is it 2,500 per sq km or 5,000 or 10,000, or 20,000 or 30,000.

There is no doubt that in a higher density area people might go out more. Mostly because they have a greater choice of options. But is there a difference between someone going to a restaurant to eat a meal vs going to a grocery store to buy the food to cook a meal at home. Either way that person had to leave to get the food.

Also would there be any ecological savings by having a common laundry room. Whether I carry my clothes to the common room or just put them in a machine in my living quarters. I'm still going to have to use a machine and the energy that requires. The only way you could save this way is if I put my clothes in the washer with another persons clothes. In other words getting every machine to be full at all times.

There is no doubt that a higher density area as a lower ecological foot print per person compared to a lower density area.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Paul.  The point about shared equipment is that fewer machines are purchased, and hence built.  The point of the chart in the post is to emphasise how much of our footprint comes from the processes nurtured by our purchases, including manufacture and transport of goods.

Paul

Ok so by having fewer machines purchased. The ones that are purchased should be used more often. I would agree with that

But then doesn't that also mean those machines will meet there end of life cycle sooner. As they will be used more often. So if one machine lasts 15 years. And two families happen to use that machine. Then each family gets about 7.5 years each. Of course if each family had their own machine then they would each get 15 years. Which is the point that dejv brought up above.

I realize of course it doesn't work out that way perfectly as machines can break down at any time. And some can last longer than they should.

Also the communal machine will more than likely be replaced sooner than it should because of the "keeping it looking new". Same idea as someone who leases a car and gets something newer all the time.

Either way I still feel higher density living is better overall for the environment. The only thing better would be less humans, but that isn't going to happen anytime soon.

Laurence Aurbach

"Affluent people living outside the inner city still have a high footprint, and poor people in the inner city still have a small one."

Do affluent households in the sprawling suburbs have a higher footprint than inner city households at the same level of affluence? The answer is certainly yes.

According to the Australian study, factors related to urban form and density have a small impact on environmental footprints. The majority of impact is from food, clothing, and other goods, which obviously has little to do with urban form and density.

The Australian study is basically a map of wealth. Are patterns of wealth the same in the US? The Census Bureau has online maps of household income. They show that wealthy places often are low density suburban places some distance from the central city. US cities frequently look like donuts, with a poorer area in the center. So no, the Australian pattern is not directly applicable to the US.

The Australian study makes personal and policy recommendations to reduce environmental impact. Does it advocate de-densification and suburbanization? No. It advocates smart consumption, more sharing, larger households, and distinctly urban measures that are supported by higher density, like public transport, car sharing, libraries, etc.

In summary, Kotkins' interpretation of the Australian study is erroneous and irrelevant.

Daniel

I realize this was put out by ACF, but I'm going to go ahead and question some of the assumptions of the original study anyway.

First of all, I'm not sure how you come up with relative weights for things as different as water, GHG, and land - combined into a single eco-footprint. This seems pretty subjective.

And the land piece is the hardest for me to understand. Report says, "more than half of land disturbance is due to food production." But is this a problem in and of itself? I'm not sure I would categorize farming, assuming practiced sustainably, as "disturbance." It's a "use" and relative to other potential uses, not necessarily a bad one. The way this is set up obviously pushes food into the highest ecological problem because farming does happen to require land.

It's also strange that the proportion attributed to transport only accounts for direct transport. If we're looking at the relative benefits of high v. low density, then all transport costs ought to be considered. I imagine that number would be much higher. For example, it seems like inner-city residents are getting dinged all the same for the embedded transport costs of goods and services even if they will be lower in cities than lower density areas.

The overall point that wealth and small households lead to higher footprints is right on, but the methodology is not precise enough nor geared toward making the geographical conclusions Kotkin, Cox and others are trying to draw from this. I personally think ACF should have skipped the section on geographical comparisons altogether without a more robust and focused approach and the data to support it.

Tim Halbur of Planetizen did contact ACF to ask them about this study. The response is here:

http://www.planetizen.com/node/42941

Mike Fogel
Here, I think, is a valid critique of much of the inner-city high density housing I've seen and lived in. It is designed to serve a population of strangers, and to discourage neighbors from knowing and trusting each other. In all the places I've lived in the US, Canada, and Australia, I've found it's much easier to meet the neighbors across the fence, in a lower-density setting, than in a sterile apartment hallway or elevator.

I think there's some truth to this. However, I'd like to add that here in San Francisco most of the older urban development isn't of the "sterile apartment hallway" variety (though much of the new development is). It's more 3 and 4 story victorians with shared backyards. The building I live in is one of these and has a total of 14 people in three separate units (one for each floor) living in it right now, including a family on the 2nd floor. Meeting your neighbors could not be easier - in fact, you would have to specifically go out of your way to avoid them. We may each have moved in as strangers to each other, but a few days or maybe weeks later, that's no longer the case.

David Alexander

more sharing

Except, I don't want to share. I don't mind sharing the train with you, but sharing a washing machine and dryer is a bit too far for my tastes, and I'd much prefer my own units of my own choosing. FWIW, there were a number of us at our dorm who opted to drive home (or get picked up or even ride transit) on the weekends to avoid the mess of using communal laundry facilities.

As for car sharing, I think for those that view the car as an appliance, it's certainly a big draw, but if you're the kind of person that wants a specific style car that may or may not be offered via rentals or car-sharing, then it may be annoying. Of course, car sharing and transit is great even for roadgeeks as it frees up parking space, highway capacity, and it gets the questionable drivers off the road that can make driving annoying in some cases.

Jarrett

@ Mike. Yes, the San Francisco Victorian walk-up is wonderful for encouraging neighbors to meet. I did live in one, 1463 Sacramento, for several years in the late 80s and early 90s. Unfortunately, it's illegal to build such a thing now, almost anywhere!

Tessa

Quick question: the average eco-footprint is presumably looking at a lot more than just greenhouse gas emissions, but also things like water and land use, which is one reason why beef, which eats up so much land not just for the beef farms but also for farming their feed, is so high. Is that correct?

I like this wholistic approach, but I would like to also make sure the distinction is known, as so often these days we talk about the environment and greenhouse gas emissions/climate change as one problem, and I think that's one area where the author of the piece you're critiquing is also getting confused, as the government policy seems focused on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and for that specific environmental problem, I think living in high density areas is extremely beneficial.

That said, I personally find I have more interaction with my neighbours in apartment buildings, in particular ones with lots of families. When I was little the downstairs neighbours would pull the TV out onto the patio to watch hockey games with other people in the building. This was one of those apartment complexes typical in inner-ring suburban areas of Vancouver, though, and I've never lived in one of those fancy new towers pictured above.

W. K. Lis

Toronto suburb wants to "house and employ 47,000 people in an area of just 47 hectares, a density unrivalled in the GTA outside downtown Toronto." See http://www.thestar.com/yourcitymycity/article/782579--your-city-my-city-high-expectations-in-markham for more information

Jason

I hate to see people egregiously misusing their source material. This guy Kotkin sounds like a political point-maker rather than someone in search of the truth.

I note the significant contribution of restaurant dining to ones carbon footprint. Yipes! So when I ride my bike out to dinner, I'm damaging the environment more than someone who drives to the supermarket?

In

Ouch. :)

Jason

The point the above messy comment is trying to make is a about a slate discussion thread (to find it click http://www.slate.com/id/2247578/ ) There's a lot of talk about saving energy and its merits, adn about saving money.

The one commenter makes the point that if you save money on your energy bill you go on to spend that money on other consumption that has just as much environmental impact.

sorry for my incompetent use of html tags...

Pedestrianist

"These policies work hard to make suburban life as miserable as possible by shifting infrastructure spending to dense areas."

God forbid we spend more money where more people live...

ws

@Jarrett

"Yes, the San Francisco Victorian walk-up is wonderful for encouraging neighbors to meet. I did live in one, 1463 Sacramento, for several years in the late 80s and early 90s. Unfortunately, it's illegal to build such a thing now, almost anywhere!"

I'm not here to get too off topic, but what specifically in most city zoning/codes limits the construction of this typology of home? Is it density restrictions or something else?

You can't build these types of homes (walk up type)?

Just curious.

Michael D

Zoning by-law that prohibits truly urban houses does it through such things as: limits on maximum lot coverage, height limits, minimum front yards, minimum side yards, and, of course, minimum off-street parking requirements.

Jarrett


@ws. Yes, Michael D has it right. It's amazing how little has changed since Jane Jacobs's day, when it comes to the operations of many of these codes. I'd also add the influence of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which generally mandates elevators.

Alon Levy

re: sharing:

Jacobs made the point in The Death and Life that sharing-based communities foster a kind of cooperation that requires homogeneity. You can cooperate with people of different classes or races in a live-and-let-live neighborhood, as all stable racially integrated US neighborhoods are; but in an environment based on sharing and close-knit community ties, you'll probably default to your own clique.

Joel Garreau made the same point obliquely in The Nine Nations of North America. Writing about the communal sharing-based lifestyles of the Ecotopia region, he noted how the people in those communities were all white and affluent, and how people elsewhere in North America would view the same lifestyle as impoverished.

re: beef:

Red meat has high GHG emissions, because of the methane and feed issues. In fact, the extra emissions of beef are an order of magnitude larger than the emissions associated with food transportation. However, beef production is nowhere near as high a proportion of GHG as the graph says it is a proportion of eco-footprint.

Chris

Alon - the social capital literature that has developed since Jacobs was writing makes a big play of ethnic and cultural diversity and its role on people's levels of cooperation, but it's not quite so clear a picture. Non-US evidence suggests that what is more important for fostering these positive relationships is low levels of material competition within a community. Ethnic and cultural differences do appear to have a negative effect on general social trust, but this lack of trust, but the key predictor of whether this lower level of trust reduces the presence of positive social behaviours is economic deprivation. So if you live in a poor diverse neighbourhood you'll probably default to your own clique, but in a rich mixed one you probably won't.

If you want to develop an urban community based on principles of community and sharing across class and ethnic lines then you need to concentrate on reducing economic inequality.

ws

@Jarrett and @Michael D

Sorry, I was referring to building these dense urban houses within the city limits...I already know it's illegal in the suburbs. I don't know why, but I thought you were referring to some unknown regulation that wouldn't allow rowhomes but only condos for housing development in inner city locations.

I suppose I took your post too literal when you meant "almost anywhere". My bad on that. Disregard my inquiry.

Though, now that we're on the topic, why are condos becoming the predominant urban home typology?

I would love to see more NYC brownstone/San Fran type rowhome development (with modern architecture) for new buildings. Even density wise, condo towers are marginally denser, and factor in that they mostly house 1-2 people; the actual density in terms of people/ sq. mile isn't that great to family-oriented neighborhoods.

(Speaking of Jane Jacobs, she goes at length regarding cities that don't have a mix of ages within them). Regarding schools, enrollment is always an issue and they keep having to shut down. Economy wise, a city that caters to one type of person is not very diverse, either.

I happen to live in Portland, and recent development over the last 15 years has been good for the city, but I wonder if we're going condo-crazy here, and not promoting better urban neighborhoods than we could. A family of four is probably not going to buy a condo...but would they buy a terraced rowhome with a backyard (albeit, very small backyard)?

You can't just slap a mixed-use condo and expect people to move in and a business to sprout up.

anonymouse

I think the main thing that we've lost with modern zoning/planning/development is flexibility. Your typical brownstone can be subdivided into smaller apartments if that's what the market demands, and those apartments can be combined if the market starts demanding larger apartments. The ground floor can be converted to commercial use, or it can be used as residential, depending on the current balance between residential and commercial demand in that particular spot. I feel like this is much harder to do under the current system, where every building is planned, designed, and approved for a certain purpose (or set of purposes) with no thought given to how it might be used for something else later.

Alon Levy

Families buy apartments all the time, just not in the US. Depending on land availability, apartment ownership can be quite common. For example, in Israel, home ownership rates are high, but densities are such that most people own apartments in 4-story buildings, rather than detached houses. Even in the suburbs, apartments sometimes outnumber single-family houses. These aren't condos, at least not with the American association of the terms: the buildings are often decades old, the apartments are larger than ordinary apartments New York or Tokyo but smaller than luxury condos, and the enterprise is marketed to middle-class families.

Watson

Kotkin doesn't claim that higher density necessarily means a larger environmental footprint. Just that the evidence is unclear. And this is true independently of correlations between density and income/wealth. One example is building height. Higher density is associated with taller buildings. For the reasons Kotkin mentions, and others, tall buildings may actually have higher environmental costs per square foot of floor space than short buildings.

Even if we accept for the sake of argument that environmental costs tend to decrease as density increases, all the evidence I have seen for that conclusion suggests that the effect is small. A recent study from the National Academy of Sciences concluded that even under its most optimistic densification scenario carbon emissions from VMT would be reduced by only 8-11% after 40 years compared to a business-as-usual projection. Since passenger transportation accounts for less than 30% of total emissions, the reduction in total emissions would be even smaller: perhaps 3-4%. And again, that's for the most optimistic densification scenario. Under the study's moderate scenario, the reduction in total emissions would be even smaller than that. A fraction of a percentage point. Similarly, this Glaeser & Kahn study found that central city residents emit only about 10% less CO2 on average than their suburban counterparts. So even if we could rebuild the entire country at the average density of today's central cities, we'd only reduce CO2 emissions by something like 10%.

So even if it's true that density has environmental benefits, those benefits seem to be so modest it's hard to believe they will induce many people to abandon their car-oriented, sprawl-oriented lifestyles for the sake of the environment. The benefits just wouldn't justify the costs.

Watson

Regarding energy consumption and GHG emissions per capita by dwelling type, this study from Energy Australia found that high-rise (9+ floors), mid-rise (4-8 floors) and low-rise (up to 3 floors) apartment buildings all have higher energy consumption and GHG emissions per person than detached houses. You can see these findings in Table 5 on page 9. And the primary cause of the higher consumption/emissions of multi-storey buildings was found to be energy needed for common areas (lobbies, hallways, stairwells, elevators, parking garages, etc.)

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

@ Watson.  That's why, earlier in the comment thread, you saw praise of old walk-up apartment buildings with neither elevators nor parking garages.  Elevators are unavoidable given disability needs, but I still would like to see buildings designed so that stairs are visible and welcoming, rather than designed just as emergency exits.  And as I've said, we don't need such huge parking garages if carsharing is given an appropriate role.  I resent having the cost of parking garages cited as part of the cost of density, when I've tried to find attractive highrise flats without excessive parking, and the market refuses to provide it.   Jarrett

Michael D

@ws

I don't know about your cities, but the cities around here have those same restrictions in most of the "inner city". Toronto, for example, requires tons of off-street parking -- which is why that car-free condo is such a coup. There's a huge commotion in Queens over a project where the Economic Development Corporation is demanding even more parking than the zoning. In my city there is nowhere you can build residential without at least a parking spot per unit, or more likely 1.5.

Required off-street parking is probably one of the biggest reasons you don't see many rowhouses being built. You either build small and low-density, with plenty of surface parking, or you build sufficiently tall to be able to afford the expense of a parking garage. The urban happy medium of moderate height and close spacing is just not possible.

Watson

Jarrett,

If someone is willing, for the sake of the environment, to trade living in a detached house for living in a fifth-floor apartment with no elevator access and no parking, and willing to trade getting around in his own private car for getting around in shared cars, that's fine. To each his own. I just don't think very many people will be willing to make that kind of trade. They would view it as a serious reduction in their standard of living. Reducing one's environmental footprint is a worthy goal. But it's not the only worthy goal. Things like time, comfort and convenience also matter to people. If they could achieve the same environmental benefit in less painful and disruptive ways -- like buying a more fuel-efficient car, or insulating their house -- I think they're far more likely to do that instead. And if not, I think they'd simply accept the higher environmental cost as a price they're willing to pay for a more comfortable and convenient lifestyle. By world standards, even New Yorkers who live in small walk-up apartments and get around by transit are profligate energy consumers and GHG polluters. We all draw the line somewhere.

Michael D,

Without parking minimums, businesses would provide only the minimum amount of parking they thought they could get away with, in the expectation that their customers would poach parking space from other businesses and public streets, creating conflict, congestion and safety hazards. It's a collective action problem. Parking minimums force everyone to play by the same rules and provide the amount of parking deemed necessary for acceptable levels of mobility and public safety.

ws

@Michael D

I know some very nice rowhomes that still have on site parking. Chicago comes to mind, but they have a distinct advantage of having parking in the rear due to alleys.

San Fran. does have some very nice rowhomes with parking in the front of many of its rowhome units. All though the downside is a curb cut, I guess.

As anonymouse mentioned, the absolute over planning of buildings or a specific purpose is a great downfall.

Alon Levy
Similarly, this Glaeser & Kahn study found that central city residents emit only about 10% less CO2 on average than their suburban counterparts...

...for a definition of central city that includes low-density, car-oriented places like Detroit. That's why Glaeser keeps arguing for denser central cities like New York.

But keep digging, Mix-ryG-son.

Michael D

"Parking minimums force everyone to play by the same rules and provide the amount of parking deemed necessary for acceptable levels of mobility and public safety."

In this day and age, parking minimums being necessary for mobility and safety? Hogwash. What parking minimums do is force all of us to subsidize parking. Pricing on- and off-street parking wherever necessary to deal with demand and to ensure space left over is a perfectly fine way to deal with parking. And this has the distinct advantage of letting people neither use nor pay for parking. It's the 21st century, and the technology to do this is not a barrier.

@ws

If it's something beyond parking or zoning that's preventing rowhouses, I'd love to find out what it is.

Paul

@ Michael D

"If it's something beyond parking or zoning that's preventing rowhouses, I'd love to find out what it is."

While this isn't an answer that would apply to every situation on why the row house hasn't been built as much.

In Vancouver the hardest part about converting a bock of detached homes to row houses. Is the fact that you need to first own all those lots. That never happens. Unless of course you are willing politically to kick people from their homes. Give them the money and tell them to find a home somewhere else.

Now that they have started to allow laneway housing in Vancouver. There is now being one built 3 houses from my house. What once was a 2 car garage is now only a 1 car garage. The front street didn't get any bigger. So this lot through dwelling densification now has 1 less parking spot.

CroMagnon

Rowhouse construction is very common in the Baltimore area, and obviously has been the stable residential product since the city's settlement.

There was a gap in rowhouse development between about 1955 and 1980, the same period when detached houses were favored almost universally around the country.

During the 80's, two story aluminum and vinyl sided houses went up. Usually, they either had perpendicular parking in front or some other form of communal off-street parking. By the 90's more three story houses were common and brick became more common again (perhaps this was just because everything built in the 80's was horribly cheap). More houses had parking in the back yard or garages accessed through the front or rear. In the City, rear access garages became very common. Almost all were at least 20 feet wide unlike the old, shotgun style house that were frequently less than 14 feet.

FWIW, my condo was a conversion from an apartment building which was originally 3 large townhouses. The building has 16 residential units and 3 commercial units, but only 9 parking spaces. The parking spaces were deeded seperately with a cost of $15,000/space. I didn't have the money to buy one so I got my $20/year residential parking permit to drive around the neighborhood until I find a spot.

I seen some new apartment buildings in the City built with fewer parking spaces than units. Also, my neighborhood near downtown has revised it's master plan that requires a maximum of 1 parking space per unit unless additional spaces are provided for underground. So, it mostly depends on the neighborhood in certain cities as to what can be built.

Watson

...for a definition of central city that includes low-density, car-oriented places like Detroit. That's why Glaeser keeps arguing for denser central cities like New York.

G&K use the Census Bureau's definition of central city, which is the largest city in the Metropolitan Statistical Area. So, for instance, New York City is the central city of the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island-NY-NJ-PA MSA. All central cities have a higher population density than their corresponding MSAs. As G&K note "locating in central cities generally involves far less driving and living in smaller apartments."

And Glaeser does not "keep arguing for denser central cities like New York." Glaeser himself lives in a large detached house on six acres of land in the affluent suburb of Weston, Mass.

Mixner Spotter

You're not fooling anyone, Watson.

Watson

Michael D

In this day and age, parking minimums being necessary for mobility and safety? Hogwash.

I have no idea why you think so. Zoning regulations in virtually all cities and counties include parking minimums to reduce congestion and promote convenient access to buildings and businesses. This is true even in counties that include dense, walkable communities like Arlington, Virginia. Here is the preamble of Arlington County's zoning regulations on parking:

Virtually every land use in the County now requires, and in the foreseeable future will require, access by motor vehicles. For the purposes of reducing and avoiding congestion of streets and providing a more suitable living and working environment, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the County that: For every land use hereafter established, there shall be provided sufficient space for access by, and for the off-street standing and parking of, all motor vehicles that may be expected to come to the establishment at any time under normal conditions for any purpose, whether as patrons, customers, purveyors, guests, employees or otherwise.
ws

Watson:

I'm not sure what you mean by convenient access to buildings and businesses? What's so convenient about being a pedestrian on an overly engineered, busy arterial street with a zillion curb cuts and a football-field-sized-heat-sink-furnace of a parking lot to circumnavigate across in order to obtain a simple, daily item?

And that's not exactly a hyperbole, unfortunately.

Glaesar does argue for libertarian causes (with a progressive twist) that would more often than not stop the promotion of sprawl from a public policy standpoint.

To say that he promotes one living arrangement over the other is probably erroneous, knowing his ideology.

Michael D

For anyone who wants to understand why parking minima have outlived their usefulness and are actively harming our cities, see Donald Shoup's work, particularly his 1997 essay The High Cost of Free Parking (PDF); there is also a fuller book-length treatment now.

Alon Levy
Glaeser himself lives in a large detached house on six acres of land in the affluent suburb of Weston, Mass.

And yet, his articles on the Economix rave about the strength of density. How does that make him different from Thomas Friedman, Richard Florida, or Al Gore?

Zoning regulations in virtually all cities and counties include parking minimums to reduce congestion and promote convenient access to buildings and businesses.

Read New York City's zoning code sometime. In the Manhattan core, no off-street parking is needed; however, private businesses sometimes choose to provide parking for a fee. Outside the Manhattan core, small buildings do not require parking, either.

For the result, recall the "New York doesn't have the second highest congestion level in the country" smackdown on the Austin Contrarian and TTP. Back before you kept changing your name every blog.

Paul

I'd be more inclined to provide a minimum amount of parking spots. But at a massive rate of maybe $10 an hour and $50 a day. Of course at places in the suburbs you could have lower rates.

Make the suckers pay who want to drive. And use that money for better transit.

CroMagnon

It's funny how the lack of minimum parking requirements didn't seem to hurt business prior to the mass commercialization of the private auto.

I think one could make a good argument for minimum parking requirements for public buildings to a degree, but not beyond that.

Back toward the general topic: I'd like to see the environmental footprint of rowhouse communities versus detached house communities, controlled for income and age of housing stock.

Watson

ws,
I'm not sure what you mean by convenient access to buildings and businesses?

Access by private motor vehicle. You can drive to the business/building and park on-site, rather than having to find street parking or other off-site parking, which increases travel time and hassle and increases road congestion.

Michael D,
For anyone who wants to understand why parking minima have outlived their usefulness and are actively harming our cities, see Donald Shoup's work, particularly his 1997 essay The High Cost of Free Parking (PDF)

Shoup's analysis rests on premises about costs and benefits, including an unorthodox definition of "subsidy," that do not seem to be consistent with the preferences and values of most people. Out of all the thousands of counties and municipalities in the United States, I'm not aware of a single one that has adopted the parking policies Shoup recommends. As I pointed out above, even Arlington County in Virginia, which is frequently cited approvingly by proponents of urbanism and density, has parking minimums. So does Portland, another favorite of urbanists.

Watson

Alon Levy,

And yet, his articles on the Economix rave about the strength of density.

Glaeser doesn't "rave" about anything, let alone density. His work on land-use and transportation focuses on identifying and quantifying the costs and benefits of different policies and forms of development. He wants to give people information and let them make up their own mind, rather than telling them how to live. In the study I cited, Glaeser found that density has a small environmental benefit. In other studies, Glaeser has found that sprawl also has benefits. As I mentioned before, Glaeser himself has chosen to live in a large suburban house on six acres of land.

CroMagnon

Watson, most people don't have preferences or values toward minimum parking requirements. Most people like not to drive extra distance to look for parking, assuming they are a motorist to begin with and not walking to their destination. I've noticed that walkers tend to prefer walking shorter distances without constantly walking through parking lots and across vehicle entrances/exits.

The whole minimum parking requirement stipulation is an artifact of history, born out of arbitrarily established values for different land uses. It's only valid if one assumes that (1) a parking space at any given establishment is a public good, and (2) available land is never limited. Those two stipulations sure seemed to be true in the 1950's. In the first case, I can see how the mentality of parking being a public good arose in the boom of the 1950's with all the new found wealth, population growth, and Futurama putting high-powered and more reliable domestic brands within reach for many. But today, it seems absurd. People asked for that before they were forced to suffer with the landscape of unending, auto-only highways and strip malls. On the second point, it's like the mentality of the industrialists in the 19th century that there was "an inexhaustible supply of timber" from America's virgin forests.

Watson

Cromagnon,

People who oppose minimum parking requirements are free to lobby their county and municipal governments to repeal those provisions of the zoning laws. They can also lobby their state legislators and federal congressmen to pass laws that override local government parking minimums. They can even collect signatures for a state ballot proposition that would repeal parking minimums in their state by popular vote. I don't see any significant grass-roots movement for the repeal of parking minimums.

And I don't think it's hard to understand why. Eliminating minimum parking requirements would make it harder to get around by car. So most drivers aren't likely to support the elimination of parking minimums. And businesses, especially in areas where parking is already in short supply, may fear that making it harder to access them by car would drive away customers. And residents may fear that eliminating parking minimums would cause an increase in the demand for street parking, increasing congestion and decreasing available parking space in their residential streets and neighborhoods.

ws

"Access by private motor vehicle. You can drive to the business/building and park on-site, rather than having to find street parking or other off-site parking, which increases travel time and hassle and increases road congestion."

That was my point...I was playing stupid on purpose. The absolute mobility of the automobile is at the detriment of the pedestrian, biker, and even transit user, as outlined in my not-so hyperbolic example.

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be any parking, nor am I an anti-car fanatic or anything like that. I fail to see the need for the type of parking capacity that every store is required to have.

"So does Portland, another favorite of urbanists."

Not true.

Portland does not require minimum parking off-street for downtown buildings within 500 feet of a frequent 20 minute peak hour transit line.

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/02/pricey_parking_in_downtown_por.html

When you get into the actual development of housing and commercial sites, developers are going to want to save money as much as they can, and given the choice, they will only provide the amount of parking they feel they need to maximize their profits.

Even if a business doesn't want to provide fewer parking spaces, they are often required to at a completely different echelon: banks for financing of their project.

ws

Edit:

Even if a business wants fewer parking spaces, they are often required to provide more at a completely different echelon: banks for financing of their project.

ws

@Watson

"As I mentioned before, Glaeser himself has chosen to live in a large suburban house on six acres of land."

Not to get nitpicky, but 6 acres is not suburban density...that's rural density in my mind. Let's not confuse rural life with that of suburban life, if that's the case.

CroMagnon

Watson, most people don't know or care about parking requirements: it's off their radar. Limiting parking requirements is difficult with typical single-use suburban zoning. Copious amount of parking are required because it's almost impossible to build a real town any more.

But where real towns do exist, reductions of these requirements have occurred. See my earlier post where my neighborhood has a maximum of 1 parking space per unit for new residential construction. Environmental groups in my state have been moving toward reductions in parking in recent years via legislation, though the most recent victory was based on stormwater effects.

Watson

The absolute mobility of the automobile is at the detriment of the pedestrian, biker, and even transit user

Again, if you want to repeal parking minimums to reduce mobility by automobile and enhance mobility by other modes of transportation, you are free to lobby and vote accordingly. But since most people do most of their travelling by automobile, and most businesses rely heavily on customers who access their business by automobile, and displacing vehicles from off-road parking to street parking would have other adverse effects even for non-drivers, I just don't think you're very likely to be successful.

Portland does not require minimum parking off-street for downtown buildings within 500 feet of a frequent 20 minute peak hour transit line.

I said that Portland has parking minimums, not that minimums apply to every building at every location. All zoning ordinances allow various exceptions and variances under certain conditions. The standard minimums and maximums are summarized in Tables 266-1 and 266-2 of Portland's zoning ordinance here. For example, for most zones in Portland, retail buildings must provide at least one parking space per 500 sq ft of floor area.

Alon Levy
Glaeser doesn't "rave" about anything, let alone density.

Are you sure?

Shoup's analysis rests on premises about costs and benefits, including an unorthodox definition of "subsidy," that do not seem to be consistent with the preferences and values of most people.

Do you have specific criticisms of Shoup, other than "What's good for lobbyist-influenced legislators is good for me"? For example, do you disagree with his criticism of Parking Generation tables?

Watson

Are you sure?

Yes.

Do you have specific criticisms of Shoup

I just told you what I think the fundamental problem is with his analysis, in the text you quoted.

ws

@Watson

"Again, if you want to repeal parking minimums to reduce mobility by automobile and enhance mobility by other modes of transportation, you are free to lobby and vote accordingly. But since most people do most of their travelling by automobile, and most businesses rely heavily on customers who access their business by automobile"

I'd like to repeal a lot of things. You make it sounds so easy. Most people don't even understand the issue at hand.

There's major justification for raising the gas tax, but why has that not been raised in x amount of years? It's political suicide despite being logical.

Ask yourself why most people go by automobile in the first place? It's a de facto decision because all other modes are vastly inconvenient due to the regs, zoning, and street layout, etc.

So do we continue to promote these same policies or look to the future and not force businesses to provide a minimum amount of parking if they don't want to?

I haven't seen the entire zoning of downtown Portland, but much of it is CXd...which I believe is no minimum.

I don't necessarily agree with Portland's maximum allotment either, but they do give developers the ability to transfer parking spaces.

Alon Levy
I just told you what I think the fundamental problem is with his analysis, in the text you quoted.

Let's imagine you quoted some expert, and I brushed him off without citing counter-studies or mentioning any specific issue. How would you react?

Watson

ws,

The point is that parking minimums, like all our laws, are created and sustained by the democratic process. If people wanted to repeal parking minimums, they would lobby and vote accordingly. I see no significant grass-roots movement for repeal.

Why do most people go by automobile rather than transit? Because autos are faster, more convenient, more comfortable and more flexible. Again, the rise of the automobile and the decline of mass transit isn't a uniquely or characteristically American phenomenon. It has happened all over the developed world, as cars have become better and more affordable. And now it's starting to happen in the developing world too. Industrializing nations in the developing world like China, India, and Brazil are on track to add hundreds of millions of new cars and drivers in the coming decades.

Alon Levy
The point is that parking minimums, like all our laws, are created and sustained by the democratic process.

So was the Iraq War. So what?

Richard

@Watson
"Why do most people go by automobile rather than transit? Because autos are faster, more convenient, more comfortable and more flexible"

Well, sure, these are likely the reasons why people drive but is essentially a trivial argument. In cities or areas of cities with good transit service, where the transit service is competitive in terms of speed, convenience and flexibility, people tend to use transit at high levels and in some cases, in higher levels than the automobile. Anyway, most people in the world don't drive. They walk, cycle or use public transit.

While the levels of car usage is increasing in China, it never will be anywhere as near as high as currently in North America. Their massive investments in subways and high speed rail will ensure that. Note that high speed rail is much faster and comfortable than driving. Already, with relatively low rates of car usage, their roads are giant traffic jams. They used to get around faster and more conveniently when everybody cycled. Oh and by the way, 20 million electric bikes are sold per year in China, automobile sales were barely half that amount. I expect that people are getting tired of paying a lot of money for the "privilege" of waiting in traffic.

Even in North America, car use has declined over the past couple of years while transit and bicycle use has increased.

Watson

Richard,

Buses and trains used to be the overwhelmingly dominant forms of motorized transportation. Cars were expensive and unreliable. Few people could afford them. But as incomes rose and cars became more functional and reliable, they gradually displaced transit. Transit just can't compete with cars on travel time or convenience except for a very small fraction of trips (e.g., commutes into Manhattan). This has been the trend in virtually all the advanced democracies, not just in the U.S. Yes, the fact that cars have become so dominant makes it even harder for transit to compete than it was back when transit still had a significant market share. But that's unavoidable. It's probably going to be much harder to find a Chinese restaurant than an Italian one if most people in your neighborhood prefer Italian to Chinese.

Alon Levy
It's probably going to be much harder to find a Chinese restaurant than an Italian one if the local elites hate anything Chinese, tax Chinese restaurants out of existence, and create astroturf campaigns for more Italian food.

Corrected.

Nathanael

I believe that you identified the problem with that phrase "sterile hallways".

Suppose that an urban apartment building were designed not around hallways, but around a central common room on each floor. Sort of like some hotels and dormitories I've seen. You walk through the common room to get to your apartment.

As a point, I have actually lived in an apartment with a shared laundry room. It was just fine, but the laundry room was kind of hidden through a maze of corridors. There was no actual "public space", hence no interaction.

I think the failure to provide any public space at *all* in apartment buildings is part of the reason most people don't share stuff and don't form multi-apartment households. You don't need much public space in order to form a community where people know and trust each other, but you need SOME. (Suburbs which are totally unwalkable and have no parks usually end up with no sharing of anything between households either.)

Nathanael

"@ws. Yes, Michael D has it right. It's amazing how little has changed since Jane Jacobs's day, when it comes to the operations of many of these codes. I'd also add the influence of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which generally mandates elevators. "

You know, elevators are pretty cheap when you have a lot of floors -- the real problem with them is that they're not worth it if they're only handling two levels. (This is one of the worst problems with subway station accessibility -- they usually need one elevator from ground to mezzanine and another from mezzanine to each platform, for three per station. Ground-level headhouses and center platforms cut that back to a single elevator if properly laid out.)

Two-story construction is really kind of wasteful in terms of land use. I wonder why there aren't more newly-built urban buildings like the old 4-story to 10-story brick buildings, which can accomodate an elevator without excessive increases in cost. There's really no reason one can't rearrange the "brownstone" or "townhouse" design into flats three times as wide and one third as tall; it actually wastes less space on staircases.

Nathanael

Parking minimums have got to go.

They simply generate road congestion. They make it impossible to get anywhere *without* using a car (by shoving buildings behind immense parking wastelands), and then all those car drivers are shoved onto the same roads.

The correct solution for a collective action problem like this is not a mandate. It is public provision of services. The government should provide parking where it is felt necessary and desirable, and charge taxes and fees for it; it should provide public transit where *that* is more necessary and desirable.

In the case of my small town, it has far too many downtown parking garages, which are all full, and the streets get clogged at rush hour. To the detriment of the bus system, which has no park-and-rides until outside the town borders, not even at the outer ends of the two lines which run every ten minutes....

Pretty clearly, the downtown garages could be replaced by outlying collector parking and it would be a major improvement. But at least parking *is* being handled as a public service, rather than just having the local government legislate that businesses have to build parking lots and then falling asleep.

Watson

Richard,

While the levels of car usage is increasing in China, it never will be anywhere as near as high as currently in North America. Their massive investments in subways and high speed rail will ensure that.

Highway travel in China surpassed rail travel in about 1990 and the gap has been widening ever since. China's express highway network is growing much faster than its rail network. If present trends continue, China's express highway network will be larger than the U.S. interstate system within a few years. And the growth in car ownership in China is astronomical. On current trends, total Chinese car ownership will exceed total U.S. car ownership around 2017. The number of cars per capita will still be much lower in China than in the U.S., but the absolute number will be in the hundreds of millions. See here for more detailed information on transportation trends in China.

Even in North America, car use has declined over the past couple of years while transit and bicycle use has increased.

As reported by the Federal Highway Administration, car use measured in Vehicle Miles Traveled declined between 2007 and 2008 (gas hit $4/gallon in the summer of 2008), but has since started rising again. As reported by the American Public Transportation Association, mass transit ridership declined by about 4% between 2008 and 2009.

Richard

"Highway travel in China surpassed rail travel in about 1990 and the gap has been widening ever since."

According to your source, that is highway travel in passenger km, not travel in private automobiles. I would expect a lot of that to be in buses, not cars. The "current trend: is that oil prices will rise dramatically once the recession is over putting a big dent in the increase in car use in China. The only reason why there is really much car use at all in China is due to massive subsidies of gas by the government. They are getting rather tired of this huge expense so don't be surprised by extreme policies to encourage the use of other forms of transportation in China in the coming years.

Alon Levy

Watson, I like your baseline changes. Under your GaryG handle, you've read the thread on Streetsblog showing the large increases in US public transit usage from 1995 to 2009. Moving the baseline to 2007 is clever, but disingenuous.

As for China, it only started its current wave of rail investment in the mid-1990s. Forget 2017: China already has the world's largest HSR network, and by the end of this year, Shanghai will have the world's largest subway network.

Watson

Alon Levy,

Moving the baseline to 2007 is clever, but disingenuous.

I was responding to a claim about the change in transit use "over the past couple of years." Did you miss that?

As for China, it only started its current wave of rail investment in the mid-1990s.

As you can see from the charts in the link I provided, the rate of growth of China's rail network did increase in the mid-1990s, but the rate of growth of its express highway network increased dramatically more. Between 1995 and 2007, the rail network grew by about 20,000 km. Over the same period, the express highway network grew by about 60,000 km. China's transportation system is clearly following the trend of a shift from buses and trains to private automobiles that America's and Europe's transportation systems have been following for almost a century.

CroMagnon

^The last assessment isn't accurate. What's clear is that China is moving toward becoming a fully industrialized nation like Japan, the US and most of Europe.

Tallying route miles isn't necessarily indicative of a move away from rail toward the auto. I suspect China already had large network of inter-city railroads, but few inter-city expressways. Within denser urbanized areas, are there more miles of new subway or new expressway? When the US rapidly began building its interstate expressway it wasn't building new subways. It was an afterthought for the 1960's and only a few got built. China's doing both.

No one disagrees that a poor country with little auto infrastructure won't use the auto more often when they become wealthier and build auto infrastructure. Mass transit and the private auto are not necessarily competing modes. The point is that the US has gone out of its way to make auto only travel the only efficient mode of travel--in no small way because of the minimum parking requirements.

Even if China's population were to collapse to 300 billion, does anyone reasonably predict China will look and behave as auto oriented as the US? And if so, based on where?

Watson

Cromagnon,

The shift in China from rail to cars is evident from all the relevant transportation measures in the report: passenger-km of travel by mode, length of rail network vs. length of highway network, and number of passenger cars. And yes, China is building lots of new subways. But it's also building lots of new suburbs and exurbs. Beijing, for example, now has six ring roads, each further out than the last, and a seventh one is in the planning stages.

CroMagnon

Watson, your response to me doesn't acknowledge my point or questions I posed. Though China might be using cars more than before, they are using trains more, too. This is quite unlike the USA in the early 1960's when the railroads and transit collapsed. They're simply moving around more, period.

Alon Levy
I was responding to a claim about the change in transit use "over the past couple of years." Did you miss that?

No, I just think that a 2-year baseline is a deliberately narrow interpretation of "couple of years," one so out of sync with common English usage that it's disingenuous. It's on the level of saying the world's not warming because 2006 was cooler than 2005.

dejv

China doesn't move to cars from rail, it moves to cars from bikes.

Enno

Oh har har ! Heated "parking garages" in Australia ? Tell 'em they're dreaming.

Enno

The reason apartments in downtown sydney use so much energy, is because of the noise. You can't keep the windows open because of the noise, so air conditioning becomes unavoidable. If you live in a house where it is quiet, you don't need air conditioning at all.

Andrew

This is really a very interesting study. The kind of modern living we have at present is undoubtedly affecting everyone around the world. A compact living would be a good option for the kind of progress we all deal with today.

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