Apr 8th 2017 AMSTERDAM, BEIJING AND TOKYO
Don’t let people park for free
EVEN if the new headquarters that Apple is creating in California does not prove to be “the best office building in the world”, as Steve Jobs boasted shortly before his death in 2011, it will be an astounding sight. The main building resembles a flying saucer with a hole in the middle. Through its large, gently curving windows, workers will eventually look out on a wood containing some 7,000 carefully chosen trees. It is as though a race of high-tech beings has landed on a pristine planet.
And then, unfortunately, there’s the car park. For 14,000 workers, Apple is building almost 11,000 parking spaces. Many cars will be tucked under the main building, but most will cram into two enormous garages to the south. Tot up all the parking spaces and the lanes and ramps that will allow cars to reach them, and it is clear that Apple is allocating a vast area to stationary vehicles. In all, the new headquarters will contain 318,000 square metres of offices and laboratories. The car parks will occupy 325,000 square metres.
Apple is building 11,000 parking spaces not because it wants to but because Cupertino, the suburban city where the new headquarters is located, demands it. Cupertino has a requirement for every building. A developer who wants to put up a block of flats, for example, must provide two parking spaces per apartment, one of which must be covered. For a fast-food restaurant, the city demands one space for every three seats; for a bowling alley, seven spaces per lane plus one for every worker. Cupertino’s neighbours have similar rules. With such a surfeit of parking, most of it free, it is little wonder that most people get around Silicon Valley by car, or that the area has such appalling traffic jams.
Parking can seem like the most humdrum concern in the world. Even planners, who thrill to things like zoning and floor-area ratios, find it unglamorous. But parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else. Many cities try to make themselves more appealing by building cycle paths and tram lines or by erecting swaggering buildings by famous architects. If they do not also change their parking policies, such efforts amount to little more than window-dressing. There is a one-word answer to why the streets of Los Angeles look so different from those of London, and why neither city resembles Tokyo: parking.
For as long as there have been cars, there has been a need to store them when they are not moving—which, these days, is about 95% of the time. Washington, DC, had a parking garage in 1907, before Ford produced its first Model T. But the most important innovation came in 1923, when Columbus, in Ohio, began to insist that builders of flats create parking spaces for the people who would live in them. “Parking minimums”, as these are known, gradually spread across America. Now, as the number of cars on the world’s roads continues to grow (see chart), they are spreading around the world.
The codes that tell developers how much parking they must provide can be wonderfully revealing of local mores. In Las Vegas, “sex novelty shops” must have at least three spaces per 1,000 square feet (93 square metres) of floor space but “adult entertainment cabarets” at least ten for the same area. Singapore insists on one space for every 500 niches in a columbarium—a place where funerary urns are stored. Chennai’s city plan calls for one parking space for every 20 square metres of marriage hall. Perhaps unwisely, the city of Swan, in Australia, has parking minimums for taverns and wineries.
Might as well do the white line
Some developers are happy to supply parking spaces. Ryan Shear of Property Markets Group builds expensive flats in Miami, which are often bought by Latin Americans. He sometimes creates more spaces than the city requires, because his customers desire a safe place for their precious motors. But most developers create the number of parking spaces they are compelled to build and no more. In 2004 London abolished minimum parking requirements. Research by Zhan Guo of New York University shows that the amount of parking in new residential blocks promptly plunged, from an average of 1.1 spaces per flat to 0.6 spaces. The parking minimum had boosted supply far beyond what the market demanded.