Parking! What is it good for?

Since I sold our minivan in 2015, I’ve rented our condo’s assigned underground parking spot out to a friend for about $150/month.

That’s $1800/year in additional income, simply for not having a car. It’s been great. 

But recently I had to re-list that spot for rent. Our strata council (HOA) was cracking down on those of us who rented our parking spots to people who didn’t live in the building. 

Which presents an interesting conundrum: people who most need downtown parking are usually those who commute into downtown. Those of us who live downtown are much less likely to require parking.

In fact, a recent study found we already have an oversupply of on-site parking at apartment buildings.

And increasingly, in Vancouver at least, urban residents are choosing transit and biking to get around, more than personal automobiles.

Unfortunately, cities are often slow to adapt to demand, especially when constrained by antiquated zoning or mandated development requirements.

One such constraint are minimum parking requirements (city development guidelines that require as many as 1 parking space per bedroom in some cases). 

Many cities are still vastly overbuilding parking – especially in urban areas like mine that are well served by transit. 

Some forward looking cities, like Mexico City, Buffalo (!), and Santa Monica, have eliminated minimum parking requirements for new developments. There’s also been talk of maximum parking requirements, which would ensure housing providers didn’t overbuild parking in new developments.

But in the meantime, cities like mine often have a sea of unused parking spots already built in our undergrounds or parking garages.

What’s the harm, you say? Well each new underground parking spot costs between $50,000 and $100,000 to construct – costs that get added directly onto the price of your new apartment or condo, critically reducing affordability in already pricey new buildings.

Check out the bulletin board in my condo’s underground. These days, there’s multiple parking spots for rent, their prices slashed. Without being able to market these spaces to few remaining folks who need them – commuters, not residents – there’s not much of a market. Spaces sit unused, ensuring no one benefits.

4 spots for rent, and an ad for storage units on parking spots.

Some big cities like Atlanta are recognizing the decline in downtown parking requirements by redeveloping parking garages into apartment buildings or testing tiny homes in parking spaces.

My Abundant Transit colleagues and I recently took over a downtown Vancouver parking space to highlight how parking real estate could be repurposed for the people.

It’s time we start thinking creatively about urban parking. Is it needed at all in new developments? What do we do with existing underused parking spaces? Why do we choose to house cars on public land, so cheaply?

Looking forward to your thoughts in the comments. In the meantime, I’m still looking for a use for my empty underground parking stall.

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Adrian Crook is a father of five living in beautiful downtown Vancouver, Canada. He's an advocate for rental housing and public transit.
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