Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ask CarLess Guy Part 2

An addendum. Reader further asked what is the role of the Texas Donut, the residential building wrapped around a parking garage in all of this. I respond:

I think the Texas Donut is a temporary phenomenon, a bridge between the two realities - of the car-centric and chaotic and the dense, self-organized complexity of real cities. They also serve a purpose in that they have made urbanism fashionable. However, there is a flip-side. While they have been profitable, they have ONLY been profitable as result of public-private partnerships. They are not economically feasible without some form of public assistance. And in my opinion, the primary driver of that increment necessary to make these projects profitable comes in the form of parking provision, which can account for 20% of hard costs in a development. That can be a big number and IMO eats away at the potential of unleashing the private market to solve our need for in-town, affordable and walkable, urban housing.

But since parking is at this point a necessary mandate of inertia due to a century of zoning and transportation decisions producing what we know as "market demand," we can't just remove it altogether, but must slowly and incrementally unwind the need for developers (or taxpayers in partnership deals) to foot this "market-driven" cost. Portland did this rapidly by building centralized public parking facilities throughout their downtown and unbundling parking requirements so that 1)developers did not have to foot the cost and 2)both developer and tenant had choice in where and if they wanted to have parking. This isn't the only solution, just theirs which seems about as quick as possible. Of course, we probably couldn't do it as quickly since we're afraid of walking two blocks in the rain that we don't get and they do.

Also, after having lived for 2.5 years in an uptown Tx Donut (2004-06), I found the experience to be a similar compromise. It had density and the neighborhood looked pretty nice, but functionally it still lacked community which has several explanations:

1) the neighborhood was still young in its (re)evolution. State Thomas is now maturing to where retail places can exist as "holes in the wall" and without subsidy, both Livability Indicators. Places like Crooked Tree Coffee House are an outgrowth of the neighborhood demographic/personality. These third places become hubs where community organizes around.

2) the big property developments that are tx donuts are dependent upon the management team sometimes rather than third places. Is Post or Gables doing a good job acting as hubs of community for their residents? I don't know the answer of that today. For the scale of these developments, they certainly play a role in the hierarchy of community organization.

3)user behavior, which can be both created by the building format and ingrained in the user from typical car-centric lifestyles. My experience was that most people parked in the garage, walked to their unit, and never saw the light of day. Having since lived in both Swiss Ave "power property" type of developments and downtown high-rises, I have found much greater sense of community and willingness to acknowledge and engage in what we might call "neighborliness."