Friday, November 12, 2010

Parking requirements kill urban infill

Last week I had a piece in The Uniter on Winnipeg's parking minimum requirements set forth in pages 112-119 of the Winnipeg Zoning By-law). Parking requirements mandate a certain minimum number of on-site, off-street parking spaces for new developments of any type of use.

In dense neighborhoods with limited space and high land values, these requirements can at best reduce the affordability of the development and at worst kill the development altogether. This has a negative effect on neighborhood density and diversity, and reinforces neighborhood population decline, car dependence, aesthetically-deficient strip mall development, and all the other things Winnipeg clearly hasn't yet had enough of.

Thankfully, these parking minimums do not apply to downtown, which falls under 2004's more progressive Downtown Zoning By-law. There are no minimum parking requirements here.

The line between urban and suburban: Winnipeg's Downtown falls under a more progressive zoning by-law

Yet they are still firmly in place in Winnipeg's other dense pre-1920s neighborhoods. Most of these do fall under the "urban infill area" (a map is shown on page C-2 of the city-wide by-law), including the West End-Wolseley, most of Fort Rouge, Centennial-West Alexander, and old St. Boniface-Norwood, which mandates that developments need only 80% of the Zoning By-law's minimum parking standard. This is why the Christian Science development at the corner of River and Nassau St. required "only" 55 stalls for its 46 units instead of the 69 the City would require outside the urban infill area. Only slightly less absurd.

The ill-fated affordable housing development at the corner of Main and Pritchard in the North End (which I mentioned in the Uniter piece) would still need to meet 100% of the city-wide standard, since everything north of the CPR--North Point Douglas, Selkirk Avenue, Main Street, St. John's, Luxton--all of it, is not included as the "urban infill" area. And so William Whyte must abide by the same parking standards that Whyte Ridge does. No special provision (however minuscule and arbitrary the 80% provision is) to "promote infill redevelopment" for the North End; the assumption is that there will never be anything but the most garishly suburban infill built here.

Market Urbanism reports that Washington DC is looking at re-working that city's parking minimum requirements, so they would "disappear in most cases" in high density neighborhoods with good transit service.

Winnipeg should also look at eliminating parking minimum requirements for developments in its old, dense and urban neighborhoods--including the North End, where good development is needed most of all.

Infill development in Seattle's Pike/Pine neighborhood. Parking requirements make developments like this either more expensive, or not happen at all.Credit

Parking minimum Fun Facts, from Table 5-9 of the Winnipeg Zoning By-law:

- Transit stations, advertising signs, and parking lots (both surface and structured) do NOT require any off-street parking spaces. Just in case you were wondering (Category 0)

- Places of worship require on parking space for every five seats in the main assembly area (if your church uses pews, one "seat" equals 20 inches of pew space) (Category 6)

- To construct a single family dwelling on, let's say, a 33' x '99' lot without one parking space is illegal. To construct a single family dwelling on the same lot with six parking spaces (or a two-family dwelling with 12 parking spaces) is perfectly fine (Category 1)

If built today, St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Westminster Ave. would need to build a 40-car parking lot for their 200-ish "seat" sanctuary

Monday, November 08, 2010

Same district, different universe

Great news--a corner grocery store is set to open in the Exchange District, on McDermot Avenue between Main and Albert. Around the corner on Main, a new fitness centre is opening up next door to the Woodbine Hotel.

No one knew where the neighborhood's first corner grocery store would open, but it is easy to why it was this place in particular. The vicinity of McDermot and Albert has the lowest concentration of parking facilities and the highest concentration of buildings and the things that go along with them: small creative firms, storefront retail, and upstairs, scores of residents in live-work spaces.

The joke's on governments, who have wanted things like grocery stores in the Exchange District, and see it as a key to attracting more residents. But when the first one finally opens up, it is to serve a residential population that lives in the surrounding warehouses illegally--outside the sanction of antiquated building codes.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I was enjoying reading over this story with cup of coffee until I got to the bottom: "One of the lynchpins of future growth in the Exchange District will be a 450-space parkade, set to begin construction behind the Centennial Concert Hall next spring. Ross McGowan, CEO of CentreVenture Development Corp., which is building the more than $10-million parkade in conjunction with the city, said he considers it an economic development tool."

It seems that the whole point of more than 40 years of public effort into downtown has been that it will be a more interesting place with more busy sidewalks; the kind of place that in the day or evening, one could feel not only safe, but proud walking around in.

Ostensibly, this is still the case. "[Centre Venture head Ross] McGowan said his dream is for the Exchange to one day resemble Toronto's Yorkville, which features a high-density population, a good mix of uses during the day and plenty of restaurants and entertainment options at night."

That's the dream, and here's the reality:

Yorkville became what it was by being largely forgotten by planners and public renewal agencies. Certain physical and economic preconditions that existed there allowed for organic orders to build over time (taking the neighborhood from grimy hipster ghetto to ultra-chic yuppie enclave).

Centre Venture Development Corporation no longer exists to improve the economic viability or the less-tangible vitality of its mandated area. It exists to serve its own preservation by helping other public agencies build their empires--no matter what it looks like physically in terms of bad design, or how it acts in terms of hampering private investment. It's simply easier that way. Jobs are kept, and people can continue drawing salaries sharing with reporters their fanciful dreams about how a little more of this is going to--poof, just like that!--turn into a new Yorkville one day.

Dreams are great. But can't they be done on one's own time?

Photo credit