Cities that Solve the Parking Problem Will Win the Future

PARKING is the number one bugaboo in city planning, as it requires massive land use while yielding uniformly ugly results.

Car parks are anathema to good urbanism and delightful places where humans want to gather.

This is why so many architects now clamor for “car free” cities.

But in a modern context, the desire for a truly car-free city is a childish pipe dream.

In fact, I suspect most people would see the whole thing as a net loss—ESPECIALLY families with children who are into sports or other activities where longer-range travel is essential.

With that said, it is clear people prefer walkable cities and, more specifically, neighborhoods built to a human scale—and without the constant presence (and threat) of cars.

But no cars = too far 😬

And too many cars = Houston 🤮

So what can we do?

Increasingly, I am only convinced of one solution, and it won’t work everywhere:


• Consistently-sized city blocks
• Height limits on buildings

This creates a fixed maximum population density per square mile; can be scaled out over time.


This is the most expensive way to accommodate parking 😔

It’s bad enough before development, but it’s prohibitively expensive—and oftentimes impossible—to retrofit into an existing city.

It’s also the only way to accommodate parking without destroying aesthetics.

From 2005–2010, the city of Savannah, GA, undertook the construction of an underground parking garage for its bustling City Market district.

The project added 1100 parking spaces at a cost of over $30M—a price paid through a combination of public and private funding.

That’s over $27,000 per parking space!

And it is clearly only viable in extremely limited circumstances:

• Areas where the benefits outweigh the costs + interruptions
• Ability to dig underground without significant consequence (sorry, New Orleans)
• Public/private consensus

Given these constraints—and the known PAIN of massive urban retrofitting projects like Boston’s “Big Dig”—it’s clear that underground parking must be part of an initial plan, or else it’s unlikely to ever happen.

And this returns us to the point of the thread…

Cars, parking, cities, and aesthetics:

• Car-free cities = aesthetic and human-scaled but extremely limited
• Car-scaled cities = unlimited but grossly inefficient and necessarily ugly

Clearly, any practical solutions for the future will occupy a middle ground.

Interestingly, while we accept some degree of car-scaling within our cities, we also value convenience and efficiency.

In other words, while we may not mind jumping in our cars, we would prefer our routine trips be as short as possible.

This is the point at which the incentives behind car-free and car-scaled cities align.

When we achieve effective, human-scaled density, we also shorten the distance between points of interest.

This serves everyone’s needs and should be the focus of city planning commissions!

New developments can *absolutely* be built to achieve the following goals:

• Minimize the impact and intrusion of cars into pedestrian spaces
• Maximize the human-scaled points of interaction for pedestrians

Achieving the former makes the latter possible.

In a car-first society (like 99% of America), pining for a truly car-free city is futile.

But through thoughtful planning and development, we can QUARANTINE the different modes of consuming a city.

This creates distinct places for cars vs. places for people.

Clear distinctions—”this plaza is for people, and no cars are allowed”—are the bedrock of celebrated public spaces.

Consider NYC’s stretch of Broadway between 46th and 47th streets, where cars are not allowed:

You’ll find people gathering, dining, performing—LIVING.

But there’s one last caveat:

People—especially Americans—value CONVENIENCE.

And because of this, both roads and parking must be close to any destination.

Developments must carefully integrate roads and parking without interfering with the energy or aesthetics of public places.

This is a difficult discipline because it involves solving for multiple variables simultaneously.

It’s hard enough to consider each variable in a new development; it’s almost impossible when retrofitting.

In other words, it’s hard work, and that’s why we don’t see much of it 🤷🏾‍♀️

Furthermore, given the spatial requirements for parking and the aesthetic limits of disguising above-ground parking garages as actual architecture…

I can only recommend underground parking garages as the *best* way forward in any modern planning.

But as I mentioned earlier in the thread, this underground parking MUST be paired with above-ground limitations! Specifically:

• Consistently-sized city blocks
• Height limits for buildings

This is the way!

May we all live long enough to enjoy a shining example of it 🥂