Downtown Brooklyn considers reducing parking requirements, but not enough

The New York Times recently noted the glut of parking found in Brooklyn right now, a result of the requirement that developers provide parking for 40% of households. Just about anywhere else in the country, a minimum of 0.4 parking spaces per household would be a huge step forward. But in downtown only 22% of households own a car, mostly thanks to the "13 subway lines and 15 bus routes in the area." To their credit, the city is paying attention and considering reducing the parking requirement to 0.2 spaces per household and, even more admirably, cutting the requirement for parking in subsidized housing entirely.

While this is certainly the right direction, it's clearly not enough. Reducing the parking requirement to current levels of car ownership is too little, too late, and does nothing to reduce the current oversupply. The article notes that one 600-unit building built slightly more than 250 parking spaces (almost certainly at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars each), and only about a third of them are occupied. Resetting the parking requirement to 20% doesn't resolve the existing wasted space, it just ensures that no more space is needlessly wasted at great cost. And even that's only true if current car ownership levels hold steady at 22%, an unlikely proposition in a neighborhood that is growing quickly and becoming more bikeable and walkable by the day, and in a city that is presumably trying to minimize automobile use.

What really bugged me about this article though was Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James' comments. In response to the suggestion that some existing garages might be redeveloped to more productive uses, she asserted that it wouldn't result in any more affordable housing or community space. Instead, “[t]hey would turn it into more luxury housing." To which I respond, "so what?" We're not talking about tearing down a historic building or bulldozing a park to put up a new residential tower. This is a situation where the city mandated that developers build thousands of empty concrete spaces in the middle of some of the most valuable real estate in the world, and now we might actually be able to turn them into something that people actually want to use. Whether that's subsidized housing or ten million dollar apartments is completely beside the point--either way it's a boon for those new residents, the developer, and the city. Suggesting that you might kill the project just because developers might not perform some miraculous act of charity isn't just irresponsible, it's exactly the kind of destructive classism that President Obama is wrongly accused of so frequently. It serves no purpose besides sowing division.

If anyone has a right to dictate the terms of redevelopment besides the developers themselves, it's the people who currently live in buildings that were forced to overbuild their parking supply. You can be sure that the cost of constructing these superfluous garages was borne on the backs of the renters and owners of these units, and it wouldn't be unreasonable for them to demand a reimbursement for that cost if the garage they helped pay for is partially redeveloped. Everyone else should just get out of the way.