Urban Mobility and the Power of Proximity
People have always valued the power of proximity. Whether it’s the retailers and brands opening storefronts in hip, emerging neighborhoods, college graduates moving to urban centers, a son moving back to be closer to his parents or lobbyists buzzing around DC, proximity has long been a human priority.
So why are we all of a sudden looking at the 15 Minute City as a new concept? Humans are always seeking proximity to the things that they value. And that’s no secret, nor is it anything new.
The power of proximity is also something that has been an essential part of the parking business since Day 1. It’s the whole point of the industry: we get you (and your car) near where you’re going. But that doesn’t mean that we’re advocating for paving America. Quite the opposite: the best thing for the parking industry is smarter urban planning that prioritizes mobility and choice. It’s those types of decisions that will make life better for everyone.
Parking is like any business: Scarcity is good...
Parking is like any other business that faces the tough truth of supply and demand. If we have oversupply of parking spots, then we either need to increase demand to exceed the supply - or we drop our prices to compete in the market. That’s a race to the bottom that no one wants.
Sure, people generally prefer to find a parking spot close to where they’re going. And yes, they’d rather not have to look for too long to find that perfect spot. But that doesn’t mean we want more parking lots. In fact, we want more demand relative to supply, because that’s where you manage it. Like any business, an acceptable level of scarcity is good. We need to maintain our operating margins while serving our customers.
But -- and it’s a big one -- “good” scarcity can easily be scuttled by “bad” policy.
...and poor urban planning is bad!
Part of the problem is that we’ve endured decades of poor urban planning that enforced parking minimums on developers. These rules encouraged developers to design their buildings in such a way that could accommodate these parking requirements, leading to building archetypes that were less than ideal for urban mobility.
People want the ability to get to the things they need throughout their day. But when you build giant boxes surrounded by parking lots, it’s hard to walk from one place to the other.
Planners are realizing that the value of a rich, dense urban fabric - it’s what citizens want and it makes for a better urban living experience. That’s where the concept of the 15 Minute City comes from: humans want to spend their lives with family and friends, enjoying hobbies and quality time, and building meaningful careers.
And building that rich, dense urban fabric is more than just ensuring that everyone has parking. It’s not some simple equation that can be easily calculated: “This number of parking spots equates to this level of happy citizen.” It’s more nuanced than that, with variations occurring at local and regional levels.
We most definitely don’t want to spend our lives stuck in traffic - or looking for a place to park. The pandemic has taught us that we can take more control over our lives, crafting them in a way that works better for everyone. To crystallize these learnings, we need smarter urban planning that prioritizes thoughtful, targeted action over “one size fits all” standardized parking minimums.
Location. Location. Location.
This age-old adage isn’t unique to the real estate industry. It’s a tenant that holds true for all kinds of urban businesses. But there’s been a shift away from parking minimums and this idea that there’s a “right” to have parking.
Instead, we’re focused more on the entire ecosystem. This is going to lead to more interesting urban environments that are going to be beneficial to all stakeholders: it’s about building value and implementing policies around parking that don’t stifle growth but encourages it - along with multiple modes of transportation that give citizens choice and agency. Ultimately, that type of vibrant, rich urban fabric not only benefits us all but makes for a better built environment that’s healthier and more resilient in the long term.