City Comforts: Prohibit Parking Lots in Front of the Building

Based on David Sucher’s, City Comforts, we continue our series on fundamental urban design elements. Sucher selects “Three Rules of Urban Design” as the central tenets of the book, “to preserve and create walkable commercial areas.”

1. Build to the Sidewalk

2. Make the Building Front Permeable

3. Prohibit Parking Lots in Front of the Building
After you’ve followed the first two rules of urban design, you’ll see that the objective with urban design is to make the human environment as pleasant and hospitable as possible.  In order to achieve this, the parking must not be located in front, between the sidewalk and the building.   This results in the ubiquitous “strip mall,” hated by all for its blatant hostility to pedestrians and slavish devotion to the needs of cars.  Sure, you’re parking is convenient, front and center, but is this really a place that you would want to spend any more time in than absolutely necessary?

For some reason, those who feel that cars are the most important consideration in urban design also feel like they need to “soften” and hide parking lots. Thus the ever-present requirements from cities across the country for a certain percentage of the parking lot to be landscaped.  Inevitably the builder eliminates all “unnecessary” things like shrubs and trees, So, thus you end up with a little patch of lawn between the sidewalk and the parking, then a good 100 feet before you get to the building.  All the negatives of urban life, and none of the positives.  All that effort, and its still a horrible place to be a human:

Malls are the great American answer to the question of urban design.  They create a false “main Street” for shopping inside, designed completely around pedestrian needs, while creating vast oceans of asphalt for cars outside, eliminating the possibility of any sort of “city comfort” for pedestrians.  Gladly, the American Mall seems to be on the decline, being re-thought and re-designed in many places across the country, and these large parking lots are being broken up and re-purposed for the valuable land they occupy.

A sub-rule of Rule #3 is to allow on-street parking.  “Stop and go parking is essential to real shopping districts.”  You must locate and price parking such that there is high turnover every hour, and thus the parking is efficiently used. Below is 24th Street in Ogden, Utah– a perfect example of the order necessary in urban design for true “city comfort.”  Angled parking shields the pedestrian from traffic, street trees provide shade and beauty, stores are pulled up to the sidewalk, and doors and windows into shops create the permeability needed for vibrant streets.  Additional, longer-term parking for employees and residents is located behind the buildings.

Many options exist in locating parking in urban settings, mostly driven by economics. For low densities, surface parking behind buildings is the most economical option. For higher densities, you must either go up or down–below grade parking garages, or tall structures lifting parking above the pedestrian domain of the street level. Below is a great example of a parking garage fit into an urban area, in this case, the Gaslamp District of San Diego: