Everyone in Denver knows that we have a housing affordability crisis but what are we always discussing? Adding to our parking minimums and thereby increasing the cost of housing. Everyone in Denver knows we have a traffic problem but what do we find ourselves talking about? Adding parking to make it easier to bring more cars into congested neighborhoods. Everyone in Denver has acknowledged that we need to make the city more walkable, bikeable, and transit friendly and yet what do we ruminate about? Increasing parking minimums as if they will accomplish any of those things. Why is this?
We’ve thought a great deal about people who have cars and how to make their lives easier by adding more parking, but we’ve seemingly given little thought to making it easier for people who don’t want cars, who don’t need cars, or who can’t afford cars—a not insignificant portion of the city. If we want to make it easier for people to choose transportation other than cars and reduce the need for car ownership, we have to build compact, walkable neighborhoods. The small mixed-use lots which were the impetus for the formation of the recent “small lot parking exemption study” created by Councilmen Brooks & Kashmann support exactly that kind of development. Unfortunately the group was convened on the presumption that developments without parking are a problem when in fact they are the solution.
I used to live in the neighborhood of Clayton, which is northwest of Colorado and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It’s full of single family homes and has plentiful street parking. Now I live in Capitol Hill, which is full of apartment buildings and has just as much street parking but it’s always full. In Clayton I could always park in front of my house; but you know what? There were very few jobs. There were also no restaurants, coffee shops, clothing or hardware stores. In Capitol Hill I can walk to four grocery stores. In Clayton I had to drive three miles just to get to one. In Capitol Hill if I need to do so I can walk downtown or bike to Cherry Creek for every modern American need. But the parking is terrible.
Now guess which residence has a cheaper mortgage? Guess which place actually reduces my cost of living? Which neighborhood has a greater diversity of housing, incomes, and opportunities? I met some great people in Clayton but for a financially viable neighborhood full of convenience and opportunity, Capitol Hill wins out. The problem is there are so many people focused on making parking easy that they’ve forgotten what it is to make living easy. Or affordable. Denver doesn’t need parking minimums—it needs to get rid of parking minimums and allow the kind of development that produces neighborhoods where cars aren’t needed.