Architects Design Fix For New York’s Retro Parking Requirements

Cora Lewis Cora Lewis

As the song goes, New York City paved paradise and legally required a parking lot.

Proponents of altering or eliminating the city’s existing mandates on parking (some of which are more than a half-century old) argue that the laws drive up construction costs and fill space that could be used to house people — or build other amenities such as parks and playgrounds.

Now a design team called “9×18” (after the dimensions of a regulation-size city parking spot) has evaluated and reimagined current laws around parking tied to affordable housing. In doing so, the trio provides a comprehensive roadmap (literally) to what can change and how.

Taking a particular East Harlem neighborhood as a case study, fellows Nathan Rich, Miriam Peterson, and Sagi Golan, supported by the Institute for Public Architecture, generated a set of recommendations and interventions for the city’s current surface-level lots and the policy surrounding them.

Drawing on a report on “Inner Ring” neighborhoods, released last year by the NYC Department of City Planning, the team first identified New York communities with commonalities in car ownership, access to transit, and car use trends (above).

Next, the three set out to think of parking in these areas in a holistic way. Rather than describing parking requirements in terms of rigid minimums and maximums, linked exclusively to the number of units in a given building, “9×18” conceived of parking as something that could instead be a shared resource.

Bearing in mind that the minimum size of a studio apartment in New York is 450 square feet, while a micro unit is 300 square feet, the team considered how a parking space’s 250 square feet might be repurposed. In addition to living space, the “9×18” team considered office space, park space, playgrounds, farmers’ markets and bike-share parking as possible alternatives.

In order to see how their broad plan might map onto a specific community, the team chose to look at the particulars of the Carver Houses in East Harlem.

By first identifying existing amenities within a neighborhood, the team determined it could better prioritize potential uses for the existing surface parking lots.

As part of their research, “9×18” also created a typology of parking used by the New York City Housing Authority.

Just as there are common building typologies among affordable housing developments, there are also common parking strategies deployed on these sites. But the building type and the parking type are not related to one another through a coherent site planning strategy, the team found. More often than not, the parking serves as a physical barrier between the site and surrounding community.

In detailing a taxonomy of existing styles, the fellows showed how solutions to existing inefficiencies could be generalized across NYCHA campuses in inner ring neighborhoods.

Finally, the team examined the distance from housing projects to public transportation, creating a chart that took into account the amount of walking residents would have to do to access the subway or a bus.

Since 2007, 88% of new developments have been built within 1/2 mile of a subway stop.

“9×18” recommends that parking requirements be directly related to density and proximity to transit, rather than exclusively the number of housing units provided. By opening up the possibilities of more flexible parking requirements tied to public housing development, “9×18” aims to save the city of New York money (in construction costs) and put wasted, static space to good use.

The team members presented their work to members of the housing and urban planning community, including Jeffrey Shumaker, Chief Urban Designer for the city, in a public workshop last week. (Golan, separate from his IPA fellowship, works as an urban designer in the Office of City Planning.)

“This is all ours now, right?” joked Shumaker. “I can just take this back to the office?”