Buffalo had some big news to share earlier this month: it became the first city in the U.S. to remove minimum parking requirements from its zoning code. This change was part of a larger (and long overdue) overhaul to the city’s code, extensively described in a great piece by CityLab. In short, minimum parking requirements were introduced in the 1930s as the automobile started rapidly growing in popularity. There was no longer enough space for cars to park on city streets, so cities mandated that developers include spaces in their developments. While the mandate cost nothing for cities, those costs were passed along to developers and limited the kinds of developments. It is a lot more difficult to build an apartment building, for example, if you also have to build a parking garage that provides two parking spots for every single apartment within that building.
The policies are antiquated to say the least—a position long espoused by Donald Shoup of UCLA’s Department of Urban Planning, who has been at the forefront of this issue for many years. And we here at Scoville very much agree with him. Working first with Flexcar (many moons ago) and with Zipcar since the two merged, we have watched the sharing economy grow in prominence and in impact. Through the growing popularity of car sharing, improvements in public transportation, increased urban walkability and the introduction of numerous other mobility solutions, individuals today are far less dependent on cars than they were in the mid 20th century. Zipcar surveys have long reflected this trend, indicating that many urban homes today are either one-car homes or no-car families.
This movement has been going on for a very long time—arguably over 15 years! So why is Buffalo the first city to update this policy? Isn’t this in the interest of every city? To be fair, many districts and neighborhoods have embraced changes to minimum parking requirements and even more cities are in the process of eliminating them. But these questions are very valid. Zoning requirements are often very complex are individual updates take time, attention and consensus. Yet from our perspective, consensus should not be difficult to reach on this front—the need for parking has significantly decreased and that trend will only continue. So we applaud Buffalo and encourage other cities to rapidly follow suit.