Using valuable downtown land for parking? In a housing crisis, it does not stick
OPINION: When I first moved to New Zealand – even after living in some of the more expensive US real estate markets – I was surprised at the house prices. My shock was reinforced by the condition of the houses, many of which lack adequate insulation, adequate heating or cooling, or double-glazed windows.
I wondered why I would pay so much for a house that needed so much attention. Then I heard someone joke, âIn New Zealand you pay for the land and the house is free. Suddenly, things took on a lot more meaning.
Unlike the United States, where the land is valued at a small fraction of “improvements” (the building that stands on the section), in New Zealand it is the exact opposite.
But it also raised a big question: in a country where the cost of land is so high and the supply of housing so scarce, how could there be so many surface parking lots?
Habitat for Humanity estimates that 300,000 families are living in unacceptable housing conditions due to unaffordable housing, overcrowding and poor housing stock. RNZ’s podcast, The Detail, explores the decades of policy making that brought us here.
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The price of parking
Take Auckland, for example, arguably the most limited housing market in New Zealand. Specifically, the still developing Wynyard neighborhood on the downtown waterfront presents a clear case of car parking on potential housing.
One of the many abundant surface parking lots is located on Jellicoe Street. It includes 8,146 square meters of tar, paint and parked cars. The massive lot has an appraisal of $ 37,000,000 with the upgrades valued at $ 1,000,000 – presumably all that paving stone and paint.
The next part is a little harder to swallow. The land is valued at just over $ 4,500 per square meter. With an average parking space occupying 15 square meters, that means each space is worth around $ 68,000.
It’s just for the parking spots themselves, not all the land needed for people to get in and out and around the parking lot.
What parking earns
Now things are getting interesting. The Jellicoe Street parking lot is maintained by Auckland Transport, which offers people traveling to the CBD the courtesy of a first hour of free parking followed by a charge of $ 6 per hour.
So, for just $ 18, drivers can park for four hours. On weekends, those four hours of parking will cost just $ 6.
Assuming a parking space is fully occupied during all hours of operation (7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday), it could reasonably earn $ 480. Spanning an entire year, a single space can net just under $ 25,000.
Ignoring overhead costs and more realistic occupancy rates, it would take almost three years for a single outdoor parking space to recoup the cost of the land it sits on. It may seem economically viable. But what is not in this equation is the real and very high cost of cheap and abundant parking.
The widespread availability of low cost parking in high demand locations has significant impacts on our cities. When people expect parking to be available in these locations, they often choose to drive rather than use a more sustainable mode like public transportation. This means that people are buying more cars and taking more personal vehicle trips.
When cheap parking spots fill up during rush hour, people tend to look for a parking spot rather than looking for slightly more expensive and less convenient alternative locations. That is, they go around a parking lot or a block until someone else leaves. When enough drivers do, it creates more congestion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The long-term availability of inexpensive city parking lots also implies that parking in such places is a public good. People expect parking to always be in these places and will fight to prevent the land from being used for higher and better purposes.
This is where the rubber hits the road. Outdoor parking is the least productive use of large urban land. In the midst of the biggest housing affordability crisis in perhaps a generation, we could lose some of that automotive space to apartments.
People before parking
According to the Auckland district plan, a one-bedroom / one-bathroom apartment should occupy approximately 45 square meters – precisely three parking spaces.
The advantage of a building over an open-air parking lot is that it can be built. Instead of around 200 parking spaces for cars, we can build more than 600 apartments on ten floors.
Rather than storing a few hundred cars for part of the day, with bare sidewalks overnight, we could provide living space for up to 1,200 people around the clock.
We could do the same with the parking lot across the street and the parking lot a block away and so on – until we are a city and a country that focuses more on the housing people than on the parking lot of cars.
It will be difficult to let go of the parking lots. Where some see an opportunity for urban regeneration through the development of underutilized spaces, others see the loss of parking as another hurdle for city workers to overcome.
But we simply have too much space in our cities dedicated to the car. Our land is far too precious to be paved. It’s time to use a fraction of that space to house a lot of people instead of a few machines.
Timothy Welch is Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning at the University of Auckland
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.