Solving the housing problem – too little housing for lower-income residents – requires solving the parking problem – too much real estate devoted to the automobile.
The single-family home has a long tradition in America, and as suburbs and commuting established themselves as dominant development patterns, devoting land to car storage became the norm. Today’s housing requirements pertaining to autos dictate the square-footage that must be allocated for parking spaces and garages. Under current code provisions, a single family home requires its own covered parking. This has resulted in a significant portion of each individual parcel being dedicated to garages, carports, and driveways, areas that could otherwise be dedicated to additional housing.
Cars sit idle for the vast majority of the day; used for commuting or local errands, cars otherwise bake in the hot sun or sit in dark garages for 20 out of 24 hours. Often one of the single largest investments a family makes, cars also require expensive insurance, maintenance, and repairs. It’s no wonder that alternatives to owning a family car are arising and we have entered a new age of the automobile, one featuring the gig-economy of Uber and Lyft and car-sharing.
Convenience has always been a major factor in auto ownership. Our love of independence and freedom meshes perfectly with extending our personality to our car. Combined with our impatience and physical laziness, the convenience of driving is now deeply embedded in our American lifestyle, and largely accounts for the paucity of public transportation. It is no coincidence that all this coincides with an epidemic of obesity and health problems such as diabetes. Cars have become comfortable “living rooms on wheels” and our auto-centric, couch-potato lifestyle is ruining our health.
A shift in our views about catering to the automobile also holds a key to helping solve our housing crisis. Housing plans need to focus on multi-family development, where cars are subordinated to living space. This is accomplished by eliminating garages located in each unit, and designing developments so that common-area parking solutions are used. When so designed, parcels can accommodate more housing; it’s really that simple.
In addition, multi-family developments also provide the opportunity for the convenience of car- sharing. A Home Owners Association (HOA) can include car-sharing as one of its benefits, and this greatly reduces the time individual autos sit idle. In such situations, individual car ownership decreases; a previous “two-car” family can become a “one-car-plus-car share” family, reducing the land needed for parking by as much as 50%.
Some forecast the arrival of self-driving cars over the next decade. The prospect of using a smart phone to order an automated electric car-service that picks up and delivers passengers changes the entire formula associated with parking. Huge parking lots and home garages will disappear, and rather than investing in large parking garages, cities will be investing in car- share facilities and actively working to create them.
Cars will probably never go out of fashion but, like many other previously coveted items, they will become commodities, things people need to use but not acquire as valuable investments. Overall, commodified electric vehicles hold the prospect of not only helping to solve our housing shortage, but contributing to the mitigation of climate change by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
— The Sun Editorial Board