Architects, builders and urban planners see a future in car-less living.
The American dream is dead. Or at least that part of the American dream which imagined a shiny gas-guzzler in every driveway of every cul-de-sac of every distant, otherwise inaccessible suburb in America is. And while the dream of sustainable urban living in America is still far from fruition, there are new signs of a significant shift in popular sentiment away from urban car-ownership and use.
Living without a car in a major urban centre, even in North America, is hardly a novel phenomenon of course. 55% of New York City’s population, for example, doesn’t own or have free access to one. But here we look at several examples of something quite unprecedented – large scale office or apartment complexes, and even entire neighbourhoods, being planned and built with the automobile out of mind, and out of sight. Part of a growing trend? We certainly hope so.
Seattle, USA: Bullitt Center
This holy-grail of green architecture is still a week away from officially opening, but it’s created a huge buzz if only partly because of what it was built without: somewhere to park a car. This 55,000 square foot office building with enviable environmental credentials, located in a city with one of the highest rates of car ownership in the US, comes without a single parking spot. What it does have though, also makes it a true building of the future. A space about the size of a three-car garage will be reserved exclusively for bicycles, while commuting cyclists can wash away the morning sweat in one of the rainwater-fed showers on each floor. Nice. Also nifty are the composting toilets, and that the Bullitt Center is completely water and energy self-sufficient: a 55,000 gallon rainwater-filtration cistern will satisfy all the building’s water needs, while energy will be provided via a massive solar panel covered roof that even extends beyond the roof borders.
Toronto, Canada: The Residences at RCMI
This city’s downtown core has always been home to a significant number of people who don’t own cars, but the phenomenon seems to be making its way into an entirely new demographic: the upwardly mobile, condo-buyer. This 42-story condo tower is the very first in this city hell-bent on Manhattanizing itself to be marketed entirely to people without cars – there isn’t a single parking space for residents. Two other large, luxury condominium buildings in the city are also being built with less than 1 parking spot for every six apartment units, illustrating that while home ownership is still very much valued, car ownership is not the status-lifting experience it once was, and many professionals see benefit in going without.
San Jose, California & Boston, Massachusetts
Buildings built for a car-free future still face obstacles however, as these two projects testify to. In San Jose, a project that would have seen this handsome apartment block (above photo) built on a thin sliver of land (and on which it would have been difficult to build underground parking) was derailed by banks who refused to back the project.
Meanwhile in Boston, plans were underway for a completely car-free project in the city’s Allston neighbourhood which would be marketed exclusively to car-free tenants, but under intense pressure from community groups (who claimed that residents would park on the street instead) the building’s architect (and future resident) changed the design to allow for 35 parking spaces including 6 car sharing spaces.
Architect Sebastian Mariscal quoted in Boston Magazine:
“When you remove the car component as the main design challenge, your way of thinking about design is completely different. The possibilities that open for a more environmentally friendly and human design – they are endless.”
However Boston’s stuck-in-the-past standard zoning laws still require 2 parking spaces for every unit in an apartment block (strange in a city where up to 45% of residents don’t use a car). Happily, a public green space is being planned for the area where a much larger parking lot would have stood.
Freiburg, Germany: Vauban
And then there’s Vauban, an eco-town that hasn’t gone as far as banning cars, but restricts them severely. Residents must either declare that they own a car, and pay €16,000 ($21,000US) to buy a parking spot in a multi-storey garage on the outskirts of the quarter, or sign a declaration promising never to own one! Speed limits restrict driving on the main thoroughfare to a 30km/hour crawl while on narrower streets cars the limit is walking speed.
Critics complain of cheats (estimated at 5% of residents) who own cars but park them in neighbouring towns, despite the official threat confiscation of their property if their crime is revealed, and the divide between anti-car extremists and car-owners has been known to lead to heated verbal confrontations in the street and even the occassional case of vandalism.