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Edmonton’s New Parking Rule Is an Urban Planner’s Dream

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 3:13am in

Tags 

Canada, cars, cities

The non-profit Niginan Housing Ventures manages Ambrose Place, one of Edmonton, Alberta’s best-known affordable housing developments for people transitioning out of homelessness. But what most Edmontonians don’t know about Ambrose Place is that, right underneath it, is a $1 million subterranean parking garage that sits empty and unused. 

“Existing parking regulations required that Ambrose be constructed with roughly 50 parking stalls, despite the fact that virtually none of the 42 residents of Ambrose were anticipated to own vehicles” Anne Stevenson from the Right at Home Housing Society told Edmonton’s City Council at a hearing on Edmonton’s parking regulations. Stevenson described the nonsensical nature of the city’s current parking requirements. “Instead of being able to reduce rents or hire additional staff to support residents, these tens of thousands of dollars are being spent paying for a parkade that sits vacant for the majority of the time.” 

Like almost every municipality in North America for the past fifty years, Edmonton has told businesses, developers and landowners how much parking they must provide on their property.  Want to build a neighborhood café? You’ll need one parking space per 50 square feet. How about a housing development for seniors? That’ll be one space per unit. A go-kart track?  Two spaces per cart. A bowling alley may require up to five spaces per lane. Parking minimums, as these policies are called, are premised on a seemingly rational theory: if businesses and residences don’t give people somewhere to put their cars, parking chaos will surely ensue.  

Last month, however, Edmonton implemented a radical rule change: going forward, other than mandatory accessible spaces, no property would be required to provide any parking whatsoever.

edmontonEdmonton is home to Canada’s largest shopping mall and the biggest parking lot in the world. Little lots like this are everywhere. Credit: Mack Male / Flickr

The rule change made Edmonton the first major Canadian city to eliminate off-street parking minimums citywide. As an urban planning tweak, the move may seem arcane. But Edmonton’s policy change is a very big deal — a radical rejoinder to the notion that cities need ample parking.  Its results will be closely watched by officials across the continent. 

“We are leading the way in passing a policy that contributes to changing the way our city will grow from here and what long-term sustainability looks like here in Edmonton” Mayor Don Iveson said at a press conference. “This policy removes barriers for new homes, and for businesses, and improves choice and flexibility in how businesses and homeowners meet their future parking needs.”

An unlikely pioneer

At first glance, Edmonton doesn’t seem like the type of city that would champion progressive urban planning. It’s the gateway to northern Alberta’s oil sands industry, a major source of fossil fuels. It is also home to Canada’s largest shopping mall and the biggest parking lot in the world. The city boomed at a time when car-oriented urbanism was ascendant, and developed accordingly, with vast stretches of asphalt parking lots. The result is that today, Edmonton has 50 percent more parking than it needs. Even at peak hours, on the busiest days of the week, half of the parking the city has forced landowners to build over the years is empty of cars. 

edmontonAreas in red show space allocated to parking in different locations in Edmonton. Credit: Ashley Salvador

This oversupply is not unique to Edmonton. Across North America, cities suffer from too much parking. Sacramento, California has an average oversupply of 65 percent. Seattle has a 23 percent oversupply at peak utilization. A 2014 study of 27 mixed-use districts across the United States found that, on average, parking is oversupplied by 65 percent. 

This is because, in general, parking minimums do a poor job of estimating parking demand. They’re a top-down policy tool that doesn’t accurately account for individual circumstances. Does the camping gear retailer whose customers mostly arrive on mountain bikes need as many parking spaces as the furniture store? According to parking minimum rules, it very well might. Rather than letting property owners decide how much or how little parking they need based on their context, location, or target market, parking minimums forcibly decide for them. This type of inefficiency comes at a significant cost

How much? The cost of a single parking space can range from $7,000 to $60,000. Using Edmonton’s 50 percent oversupply and a conservative cost per space of $10,000, this represents close to $200 million in pavement that, at any given time, nobody’s using. If you’re a new business operating on tight profit margins, having to provide numerous parking spaces can make or break your project. And if you do manage to meet minimum parking requirements, the cost of parking doesn’t just disappear. It gets passed down to consumers in the form of higher rents, groceries, gym memberships and lattes.

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From a land use perspective, the more parking we build, the more spread out our cities become. The more spread out our cities become, the more dependent we are on cars. This means higher emissions, declining health, costly spending on new roads, schools, sewer lines and services at the fringes, higher taxes, more traffic and less investment in public and active forms of transportation. 

With such a long list of negative externalities, the casual observer may wonder why every city hasn’t done away with parking minimums by now. Some have, but to varying degrees. More cities than ever are making moves to eliminate them, but in most cases, the hold up can be summed up by two words: car culture.

Car culture is the implicit deference to personal automobiles above all other modes of transportation. It’s a hidden force in our society at the root of policies like parking minimums. It’s the reason your dentist may offer to validate your parking fee, but not offer you a bus ticket. Life without cars is unimaginable because we’ve made it so, but our reliance on cars is not inevitable, as places like the Netherlands, Copenhagen and Paris have shown.  

The road to livability

Edmonton’s journey from car-oriented city to forward-thinking urban planning pioneer didn’t happen by accident. A number of players and factors converged to get us here.

Credit is due to Edmonton’s city planners, who have been de-prioritizing parking for the last ten years. A series of incremental changes saw parking requirements for single-family homes reduced from two spaces to one. Reductions for properties located close to transit and LRT lines were expanded, and parking requirements were lifted for restaurants along key main streets. 

edmontonAlthough it’s been less than a month since parking minimums have been removed in Edmonton, keen developers are already planning parking-free housing projects. Credit: Mack Male / Flickr

In conjunction with other policy changes, such as eliminating single-family-only zoning, Edmonton’s forward-thinking leadership and administration cultivated a culture of progress that sees urban evolution as foundational to building a more competitive city. “During our City Plan and Connect Edmonton engagement, they [Edmontonians] told us, you told us, that you want a vibrant and walkable and compact city, and policies like this help deliver just that, over time,” said Mayor Iveson. 

Nevertheless, City administration recognized that parking is a hot-button topic, and, anticipating the potential for pushback, performed numerous studies and launched a highly effective engagement campaign. The messaging was consistent and clear: removing parking minimums is about choice — the city wasn’t taking away parking, it was stepping aside so property owners could decide for themselves how much parking they need. Removing minimums was framed not only as a progressive urban planning innovation, but as a pragmatic, data-driven decision that would eliminate waste and costly oversupply. 

In the end, developers, community members, local businesses and activists all aligned. City council voted unanimously to enact the proposal on June 23. The effects of the policy will take time to bear fruit, but other cities that have eliminated parking minimums may offer a glimpse into Edmonton’s future. Starting in 2012, Seattle began reducing or eliminating parking minimums in most of its central neighborhoods. Afterward, developers built 40 percent less parking than had previously been required of them. The result? Some 18,000 fewer parking spaces, saving an estimated $537 million. 

Some Covid-19 interventions have given us insight into what a post-parking world might look like as parking spaces are being reclaimed for public spaces, patios and mobility lanes. Although it’s been less than a month since parking minimums have been removed in Edmonton, keen developers are already planning parking-free housing projects.

For future businesses, residents and developments like Ambrose Place, Edmonton’s decision to remove parking minimums means more space for people rather than personal automobiles. Despite its history of auto-dependence, Edmonton is proving to be an incubator of progressive urban planning policies, (un)paving the way for municipalities across the county.

The post Edmonton’s New Parking Rule Is an Urban Planner’s Dream appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Trudeau government should spend more on affordable housing and homelessness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 7:15am in

On July 21, the Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan was released. The document aims to provide public policy direction to Canada’s federal government, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

I was author of the Recovery Plan’s chapter on affordable housing and homelessness, which can be accessed here.

Trudeau government should spend more on affordable housing and homelessness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 7:15am in

On July 21, the Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan was released. The document aims to provide public policy direction to Canada’s federal government, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

I was author of the Recovery Plan’s chapter on affordable housing and homelessness, which can be accessed here.

Giving Back to Themselves

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/06/2020 - 1:03am in

Police foundations exemplify the logic of racial capitalism.

David Hulchanski class discussion

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/06/2020 - 7:45am in

I recently participated in a panel discussion in David Hulchanski’s graduate-level social housing and homelessness course at the University of Toronto.

Points raised in the blog post include the fact that all English-speaking countries of the OECD have relatively low levels of public social spending, relatively low levels of taxation, and serious affordable housing challenges.

The link to the full blog post is here.

David Hulchanski class discussion

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/06/2020 - 7:45am in

I recently participated in a panel discussion in David Hulchanski’s graduate-level social housing and homelessness course at the University of Toronto.

Points raised in the blog post include the fact that all English-speaking countries of the OECD have relatively low levels of public social spending, relatively low levels of taxation, and serious affordable housing challenges.

The link to the full blog post is here.

Socially Distanced Architecture That Brings People Together

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/05/2020 - 6:00pm in

In the past two months, some 420,000 people have left New York City, propelled by the coronavirus to seek out lower-density living situations. Though it’s far too early to predict how the crisis might shift living patterns permanently, both residential and commercial real estate activity in the suburbs of some cities seems to be rising. A survey conducted in April, as the virus was peaking in several U.S. cities, found that 39 percent of urban dwellers would consider moving “out of populated areas.”

While lower-density life allows for more social distancing, the design of many newer suburbs can create a little too much distance, isolating people into large lots and private vehicles. “Right now the single-family subdivision is kind of a hell realm” says Tom Dolan, an architect who designs housing based on a model that some planners call the “missing middle.” 

The missing middle refers to a range of housing that splits the difference between urban core and suburban sprawl, with the aim of giving neighbors space without sacrificing community. “The crucial blend of control and conviviality,” as the book Happy City by Charles Montgomery puts it, that allows us to “moderate our interactions with strangers without having to retreat entirely.” It’s a centuries-old model that might be well suited to a new world in which home-based work, non-traditional families and six feet of personal space are the norm.

“Less than family but more than neighbors”

In the late 1800s, an Italian clan called the Salemis built themselves a family compound in Oakland, California. At the time, Oakland was a quiet but growing city with a small-town feel, blanketed with namesake oaks and criss-crossed by a network of streetcars called the Key System. 

oaklandOakland at the turn of the 20th century. Credit: Wikipedia

The Salemi’s small complex there, which architect Dolan describes as “Yankee buildings in a Mediterranean site plan,” consisted of four petite wood-framed homes surrounding a brick courtyard. The property was filled with fig trees and grapevines, from which the Salemi family is rumored to have made wine during Prohibition.

By 1983, however, cars had replaced communal dining in the central courtyard, and the remaining family members were ready to move on to more conventional American housing. The property came to the attention of Dolan and three of his friends, who purchased it collectively. 

Today, the compound is a bustling community once more, housing 12 people ranging from age zero to 74 in cheerful white-clapboard houses bordered by a communal garden blooming with trumpet vines and climbing beans. While residents have expanded upon the original structures over the years, they’ve also densified the site with in-law units and studios for both living and working. The smallest of the four main dwellings manages to fit a two-bed, two-bath home into the modest footprint of a two-car garage — over three stories.

salemiThe Salemi compound as it looks today. Credit: Lily Bernheimer

Since the San Francisco Bay Area began to shelter in place in mid-March, the residents of the old Salemi compound have found that the social contact and casual connections fostered by the shared outdoor space have been essential. “It’s saved my mind,” says Adriana Taranta, a social worker and one of the founding members of the community, who has been working from home. Otherwise, she says, “I think I would have snapped.” 

Rightsizing the courtyard

Research shows that post-war suburbs, designed to house nuclear families in relative isolation, diminish casual interactions like the ones that are keeping Taranta sane. Americans who live in places that foster chance encounters with others — with walkable streets and close-in amenities — are twice as likely to talk with their neighbors as those who don’t. Less than one-third of these residents report feeling socially isolated, compared to 55 percent of people who live in places where happenstance interaction rarely occurs.

Living at the Salemi compound for 17 years, Dolan realized that its Mediterranean-style site plan fostered the kind of vibrant neighborly interaction that staves off isolation. The layout of the average American block — with front entrances around the external perimeter and private, fenced-off yards in the center — was essentially reversed here, where residents typically enter their homes through the commonly held central courtyard.

salemiResidents of the Salemi compound have densified the site with in-law units and studios for both living and working. Credit: Lily Bernheimer

Having worked on at least 50 multi-family housing developments since 1985, Dolan has had time to experiment with different building scales, courtyard sizes and layouts. According to him, there are three main ways people interact with their neighbors: formal advances like knocking on the door, planned meetings at common destinations and unplanned interactions such as naturally crossing paths. It’s these last, most spontaneous interactions he believes are key to building community. “The way I know it’s working is when I see that people are leaving their doors open and wandering around barefoot, Dolan explains, “walking in and out of their neighbors’ houses.” 

The secret to fostering this casual social cohesion is crafting the right scale of shared space, maximizing interaction while allowing for privacy and distance. Dolan cites courtyards of around 30 by 35-to-50 feet as a sweet spot. If the courtyard is too large, it starts to function like a quadrangle — people take different paths, missing those spontaneous encounters. “Beyond maybe six to eight or ten units maximum, you want a second courtyard, or a third. You want people to identify with that space, to feel like it’s ‘ours.’”  He has also found that a mix of renters and owners generates a dynamic space. “You get some turnover, and a mix of people at different stages in their lives.”

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While Dolan hasn’t designed these buildings specifically in relation to social distancing guidelines, he believes the courtyard community model will continue to work well for this need. Townhouses surrounding courtyards, which he has found to be especially desirable, can be built without common indoor elevators and corridors, minimizing the potential virus transmission vectors of surfaces and airspace shared by many families.

A 2015 study led by Jamie Anderson at the University of Cambridge’s Well-Being Institute found that living in such a neighborhood was linked to higher engagement with healthy behaviors. The study compared two Cambridge neighborhoods of “terraced” dwellings (equivalent to row houses): one laid out in a traditional British pattern with each home having its own small private backyard, and another where the majority of outdoor space was held communally in internal courtyards and community gardens. In the communal layout, where only 25 percent of homes had private outdoor space, residents were significantly more likely to connect socially. 

These casual social connections can be especially useful in times of crisis. Research conducted by Daniel Aldrich, professor and director of the Resilience and Security Studies program at Northeastern University, has identified an under-appreciated factor critical to surviving disasters: how well you know your neighbors. Researching natural disasters like the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, Aldrich found that neighbors were responsible for saving more lives than fire trucks and ambulances. 

salemi“I always find flowers on my porch and containers of soup… and I don’t even know how people know [when] I’m sick,” said one resident of the Salemi compound. Credit: Lily BernheimerKnowing your neighbors cultivates social trust, a sociological condition that correlates with multiple measures of societal well-being, from mental health to life satisfaction. When things go haywire, social trust is particularly useful. A U.N. report released in March found that nations with high levels of social trust, like South Korea, are “more resilient in the face of natural disasters and economic crises” like the coronavirus because “fixing rather than fighting becomes the order of the day.”

Collective efficacy

When people see themselves and their communities as capable of dealing with a crisis, they are far more likely to engage actively with social and environmental challenges. This sense of common agency is known as collective efficacy. Would you mail a stamped envelope found in the hallway of your building? Will you wear a mask to protect the people around you from germs? These pro-social behaviours, combined with social trust and a common sense of agency, signal that a community has a high level of collective efficacy.

Thankfully, none of the residents of the Salemi compound have fallen prey to Covid-19. But many say they feel safer knowing their neighbors can keep an eye out for them. As Sally Baker, who suffers from chronic asthma says, “I always find flowers on my porch and containers of soup… and I don’t even know how people know [when] I’m sick.” The communal courtyard has been ideal for distanced socializing outdoors, without necessitating stricter safety measures virologists are recommending for denser “co-living” buildings such as scheduling phased use of internal common areas like kitchens.

For Taranta, the social network around the courtyard has been a critical support in past personal crises. “Our son was extremely sick when he was little and it was a super traumatic time for our family, and I think in a way, for everybody here. . . It helped a lot to have other people around. To help with our other son, but also to know what we were going through.”

To Tom Dolan, this “missing middle” model of housing meets a range of challenges caused by the pandemic: community with distance; remote work that doesn’t isolate; even the “social bubble” construct that some epidemiologists have endorsed as a way to socialize amid a deadly virus.  Although the missing middle typically refers to mid-density dwellings, Dolan sees courtyard communities as providing another middle too often missing from both suburban and urban development: shared, central outdoor space.

“To me, this is the kind of building type that the world needs right now,” he says. “I’ve been feeling that for a while, but I think it becomes more true in the context of Covid. Being able to go in your front door and not come out for two days, but when you do decide to come out, you can interact — that’s what makes life complete.”

The post Socially Distanced Architecture That Brings People Together appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Philosopher Wins Fellowship to Produce “Good Life” Guide to Rome

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/05/2020 - 11:02pm in

Scott Samuelson, professor of philosophy at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, has been awarded a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship to put together a philosophical guidebook to the city of Rome focusing on the idea of a good life.

His project is called “Rome as a Guide to the Good Life: A Philosophical Grand Tour”:

Given all that’s been written about Rome, it’s astonishing there isn’t a philosophical guidebook to the city. “Rome as a Guide to the Good Life” fills that gap by exploring how philosophers, artists, and travelers think about the Eternal City to envision what it means to live well. An eclectic guide to ethics, mixing theory and history, this book roots philosophy in the sites of Rome. What does it mean to see the Forum like Cicero or the Colosseum like Augustine? What does Raphael’s Loggia of Cupid and Psyche teach about love and the soul? What can be learned from the tombs of the Non-Catholic Cemetery about how to build a life? “Rome as a Guide to the Good Life” shows how sculptures, paintings, buildings, and piazzas can be occasions not only for history and beauty, but also for self-knowledge and happiness.

What other cities would this kind of project be good for?

Professor Samuelson won the Hiett Prize in the Humanities in 2015. You can read excerpts from an interview with him here.

The Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowships, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies, “recognize humanities and social science faculty who teach at two-year institutions and their vital contributions to scholarship, teaching, and their communities.” They include a stipend of up to $40,000 to be used for any activities or expenses related to advancing the project.

The post Philosopher Wins Fellowship to Produce “Good Life” Guide to Rome appeared first on Daily Nous.

Don’t Worry, Everything Will Get Back to “Normal”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/04/2020 - 2:38am in

           When will things get back to normal? Everyone is asking.

            The economic lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mass unemployment shock, forced countless businesses into bankruptcy and is driving many Americans crazy. But this shall pass.

            The good old days will be back.

The coronavirus worried city officials. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers were sleeping “head-to-toe in dormitory-style shelters” for homeless people that were “vectors for widespread COVID-19 infection.” So New York’s mayor invited some of the homeless to move out of shelters and off the streets into some of the city’s 100,000 vacant hotel rooms at city expense. New Orleans, Los Angeles and San Francisco have followed suit.

Do not worry! Tourism will resume, hotels will full up and those rooms will be needed for capitalism’s winner class. The homeless will resume their rightful place on the streets and/or crowded into squalid shelters. With an average life expectancy of 50, they will die bereft and alone, their bodies unclaimed before being dumped into mass graves. No more fear that their vulnerability to virus imperils us, no more there-but-for-the-grace-of-God sympathy, no recognition of coexistence. It will be as it was in February 2020.

COVID-19 replaced the post-9/11 pantheon of heroic workers—cops, firefighters and soldiers—with employees who earn far less while taking much bigger risks. Now we thank workers in hospitals and nursing homes, those who prepare food, deliver mail and drive trucks “for their service.” Grocers are offering hazardous duty pay.

Not for long.

After it’s deemed safe, furloughed bank analysts and efficiency experts will return to their climate-controlled corporate suites to resume their job: maximizing the short-term returns of equity investors. They will pore over Excel spreadsheets displaying payroll records, draw the capitalist conclusion and issue their usual recommendations that salaries be reduced, hours lengthened and benefits curtailed in service of company bottom lines. With the hazard of coronavirus gone, the extra $2 an hour will vanish as well. Those who care for the infirm and make our dinners will return to their previous state of diminished socioeconomic status, a role reinforced by orders to wear ugly frocks adorned by ID badges. No longer heroes, zeroes once more to be ground up by the gears of the machine—certainly no thank-yous or scheduled shouts of gratitude from open windows.

Desperate to avoid a Soviet-style economic collapse, politicians of both parties graced the unemployed with an extra $600 a week for a national average total weekly jobless benefit of $947. That’s roughly the same as the national median income.

Here too, we will return to normal.

Once the ruling elites have determined that the danger of collapse and with it the loss of their real estate and securities assets has passed, they will order their pet Congressmen to allow expanded unemployment benefits to lapse. Those who are out of work will again try to make do with $347 a week, taxable. When they fail, which is inevitable, the jobless will be slammed with months of back rent and mortgages, plus interest and late fees, plus all the other bills that had been deferred yet unforgiven by landlords, telecoms and other owner-class types during the COVID-19 lockdown. Homelessness and poverty will skyrocket.

Like before.

Fear not. Factories will go back to cranking out Yobama action figures, mint-flavored condoms and Mercedes SUVs that retail for $220,000 while getting 12 miles a gallon. Choked highways will slow to a crawl. Skylines will plunge back under a sea of haze.

Coyotes and mountain lions will scamper back into the mountains. The birds will fly away again.

No one will check on grandma or grandpa.

There won’t be any need.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Affordable housing, homelessness and the upcoming federal budget

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/03/2020 - 10:14am in

I’ve written a ‘top 10’ overview of things to know about affordable housing and homelessness, as they relate to Canada’s upcoming federal budget. The overview is based on the affordable housing and homelessness chapter in the just-released Alternative Federal Budget.

A link to the ‘top 10’ overview is here.

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