Fascinating article in a recent issue of the Economist: Sacred Spaces explores the implications of how parking works in cities around the world, and calls into question some common assumptions.
It's not just interesting, I find it awfully timely and relevant for life in Somerville these days. I've wound up getting involved with the community over the past year or so, due to the massive building boom happening on our block. The warehouse across the street is being torn down and replaced by a 25-unit condo complex, and that's only one of three projects happening on the block right now. And the universal topic of argument -- the subject of probably half of all the discussion in the community meetings -- is parking.
It's a nasty bit of zero-sum. The builders want as much footprint as possible for their buildings, since that is where the money is; the result is that every one of them is begging for exemptions from the off-street parking requirements, which eat into the land where they could put More Building. And the city is encouraging this: their claim is that, if a unit only has one deeded parking space, it will only be bought by people with one car. After all, once the Green Line extension is completed (inshallah), we'll be within a few blocks of two subway stops, so people won't need cars.
Problem is, there is a lot of magical thinking in this, mostly because it omits the tragedy of the commons that is the on-street parking. This is already nightmarish (our street is narrow and chaotic), and parking permits are effectively free here. I think they're $40/year -- not enough to make anybody really consider whether they need a second car. So if the buyers of that new $600k condo have two cars, and it only comes with one parking space, it's easy to just decide to park on-street. And so the chaos grows.
Anyway -- the article is well worth a read. Among other things, it makes the point that this is a problem that can be solved with economics; the problem is that doing that without getting murdered politically is nearly impossible...