Thirty-Three percent of the buildable area of Houston’s Midtown neighborhood is occupied by parking, not including private drives and garages. Parking, in fact, uses an area equivalent to the cumulative footprint of all buildings in Midtown. Yet, currently parking is provided a private amenity in conjunction piecemeal development in the economically expeditious manner possible. What if, instead, parking is reconsidered as a civic infrastructure, provided in the same manner as roads and utilities, where it be implemented in a fashion which serves a larger public good?
This project proposes that public agencies could provide parking in the form of neighborhood garages that aggregate and densify the parking use in order to free more land for development.
Each garage would serve a predetermined tributary area of parcels, such that owners of these parcels would be liberated from the constraints of providing parking, while at the same time encouraged the develop the a given density based upon their allocation of parking spaces.
This concept is tested on three different sites in Midtown, demonstrating that this strategy can be implemented at densities of up to 3.6 FAR with garages varying from a full city block to parcels as small as 15,000sf, serving tributary areas of four to nine blocks.
The strategy was tested in further detail at a site at Drew and Brazos streets, with a garage on a 25,000sf footprint serving a 5 block area of a density of 2.4 FAR of mixed commercial and residential uses. There are several implications for the project.
Firstly, economies of scale of development are significantly reduced by the elimination of parking such that the average scale of high density development parcels from the hundreds of thousands of square feet to just over 10,000sf. This not only eliminates the resistance to development of having to acquire large multi-block tracts of land, but also would result in a city of greater texture and variety composed of smaller individual buildings.
Secondly, the development prototypes would change as all current prototypes are heavily influenced by parking requirements.
Also, the parking incentive would allow for de facto land use regulation on the part of the city as density would be controlled by parking allocations and uses and building envelopes could be further regulated as a condition of granting the incentive.
Most importantly, the nature of the urban condition in Houston would be altered in favor of higher degree of interpersonal neighborhood interaction as a result of de-privatizing parking and creating a daily ritual of pedestrian transit from the automobile to the residence or neighborhood commercial use.
This transit would be of a distance no greater than one block (330 feet) and would be a stimulating several minutes due to the intensity of development foreseen within the neighborhood.
This condition is reinforced by the rethinking of the parking garage itself.
Rather that seeing the garage as merely a storage container for cars, it would be programmed at all levels with appropriate types of commercial and recreational uses such that the ramps and drives of the garage would be interior streets accessing more uses.
The pedestrian circulation is externalized in a series of catwalks and stairs so that the uses within the garage can be accessed by either pedestrian or vehicular means, while neither circulation mode ever cross. The garage would no longer be a painful fact of automobile centered life, but rather the center of a new neighborhood vitality.
Ultimately, these parking infrastructures could not only be inserted at strategic points within the city to create small scale self-sustaining neighborhood conditions and stimulate nodes of development, but also phased in over a longer term to create continuities and networks of parking facilities, neighborhoods and uses that would over time create a unique dense urbane character for Midtown.