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Department of City Planning

DCP Official: Parking Minimums Buy Support for Upzonings

1:06 PM EDT on May 11, 2011

We reported yesterday that Department of City Planning Sustainability Director Howard Slatkin recently announced that his agency "believe[s] there are opportunities to lower parking requirements" in a ring of neighborhoods around the Manhattan core. This would be an important step forward in overhauling decades-old policies that lead to more traffic and less affordable housing. Importantly, Slatkin also revealed a major reason why the department sees mandatory parking minimums as so important -- it's all about the politics of development.

Said Slatkin:

We are a growing city that needs new housing development. But in communities, acceptance of new housing and the zoning that allows it is closely linked to the community’s confidence that new development will not exacerbate the overutilization of on-street parking.

In other words, the Bloomberg administration believes that for upzonings to be politically feasible at the neighborhood level, it has to throw in parking minimums. This is less a principled stand in support of parking minimums than a calculated decision that they are a price worth paying for new development.

There's a certain logic to that argument, even from the perspective of sustainable transportation. If you build 100 New York City apartments, even with 50 parking spaces included, that will still be far greener and more transit-oriented than 100 new houses in the suburbs. But it's far less green (and makes housing less affordable) than using the same space to build 125 NYC apartments and no parking. The question is whether the political tradeoff is truly necessary.

The fact that the city's support for parking minimums rests significantly on a political argument heightens the importance of strong organizing by advocates for green transportation and affordable housing. If advocates can show now that communities don't need parking minimums to support continued development it will free up the political space for City Planning to put forward larger reductions.

Moreover, any change to the city's zoning would be reviewed by the city's community boards and borough presidents, and subject to a binding vote by the City Council. The council consistently fights to add more and cheaper parking in new developments whenever it is given the opportunity. Any parking minimum reductions will surely be formulated with an eye toward this gauntlet of reviews, so shoring up support ahead of time is critical.

Whatever City Planning puts forward, whether weak or strong, is sure to be met with a barrage of opposition from those who want to stuff parking spaces into every available space in New York City, regardless of how much that parking adds to the price of housing and the congestion on city streets. Will the city's car-free majority be able to speak louder?

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