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A Parking Revolution: Is it Time to Rethink Minimum Parking Standards?

In urban planning and development, few topics stir as much debate as parking requirements. For years, local councils have enforced minimum parking standards, insisting that developers allocate a minimum number of parking spaces per unit in new projects. The idea was simple: accommodate the ever-growing number of cars in urban centres and reduce the pressure on street-side parking.

However, as times change,  so do our cities and habits, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that these rules might now be more of a hindrance than a help. What was once hailed as a solution to parking chaos now feels outdated, often failing to align with actual resident car ownership and transportation needs. The result? Half-empty parking lots and soaring development costs.

Now, there's a growing chorus calling for a rethink, with some even suggesting we scrap these rules altogether. 

In 2017, Nightingale Housing’s sustainable housing project, Nightingale 3.0, received approval from the city council, sparking some debate. The project forwent onsite parking for its 20-unit complex. Instead, Nightingale 3.0 proposed 55 bike parks and a comprehensive green travel plan, taking advantage of its close proximity to a railway station, tram line, local buses, and car share options. 

Speaking on the issue of the lack of car parking, Councillor Mark Reilly voiced strong support for this unconventional approach stating, “The people who are buying here are [doing so] because they are sacrificing their cars. It’s exactly what we want in this city, exactly what we need.”

Nightingale 3.0 reimagines former inner-city suburban life in Brunswick. Image: Maynard Architects.

So, why are experts and urban planners calling for a parking revolution, and how could it transform our cities for the better?

Encouraging Car Dependency vs. Embracing Sustainable Transportation 

By pushing for more parking spaces, cities inadvertently perpetuate a reliance on cars, steering residents toward car ownership even when an abundance of other transport options exist. This contradicts efforts to encourage greener, more sustainable travel methods.

Imagine a city where hopping into a car isn't the default mode of transport. Instead, walking, cycling, using shared mobility services, or taking public transit are equally convenient options. By reconsidering or removing minimum parking requirements, cities can encourage a more diverse and eco-friendly transportation system. Essentially when parking is less abundant, people are more likely to explore alternatives.

Chris De Gruyter, a Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University, and his colleagues (2024) conducted a survey of over one thousand Australian apartment residents to learn more about the determinants of car ownership. Among various factors like renting versus owning, housing density, and access to car-sharing, they discovered that off-street parking significantly influenced the decision to own a car or not. Surprisingly, just one additional parking spot can increase the likelihood of owning multiple cars by tenfold.

However, making this shift away from car-centric planning requires cooperation between councils, developers and mobility service operators. It's not just about reducing car ownership but also revitalizing public and shared transport infrastructure to make it seamlessly convenient and inherently appealing.

Culdesac Tempe, the first car-free neighborhood built from scratch in the US. Image: Culdesac.

Increased Housing Costs vs. Supporting Housing Affordability

Parking requirements pose a significant financial burden on both developers and residents, driving up housing costs and impacting affordability. According to Rider Levett Bucknall, the construction of parking spaces come with a hefty price tag, ranging from $760 to $3,900 per square metre in Australia, depending on location.

Consider this scenario: a 50-unit residential building on the outskirts of the city centre, complete with basement parking. Here, the average cost per parking space could soar to a staggering $112,000. If 20% of these spaces remain unused, potential savings could reach an astonishing  $1,120,000. This burden falls particularly heavily on residents who don't own cars, a demographic that's increasingly common, especially among younger urban dwellers. Ultimately, they end up paying for infrastructure they don't even use.

"Minimum parking requirements subsidize cars, increase traffic congestion, pollute the air, encourage sprawl, increase housing costs, degrade urban design, prevent walkability, damage the economy, and penalise people who cannot afford a car." - Donald Shoup (UCLA Professor of Urban Planning)

However, by reevaluating these requirements cities could ease the financial strain on developers, making it more feasible to build affordable housing. These savings can be passed on to residents, making housing more accessible for a wider range of people. 

This also opens up exciting opportunities for developers. Imagine reallocating the spend on dull parking spaces to more apartments, green spaces, recreational facilities, and other amenities that enhance residents' quality of life.

Misalignment with Actual Needs vs. Adapting to Changing Transportation Trends

Perhaps the most glaring flaw of minimum parking requirements is that they’re based on outdated assumptions about transportation and car ownership. These regulations were established during a time when car ownership was seen as essential for mobility, but times have changed. 

The current urban landscape reveals a surge in the popularity of alternative modes such as public transit, cycling, and ride-sharing. Particularly among younger generations, there’s a clear trend towards prioritizing access over ownership, preferring the convenience and flexibility of shared transportation options over the burden of owning a car outright. 

To thrive in this rapidly changing environment, cities and developers would benefit from liberating themselves from rigid parking standards and instead embracing other, more innovative solutions. This proactive approach to mobility ensures developments remain flexible and resilient in the face of evolving trends, for years to come.

City dwellers use an e-scooter and e-bike. Image: Outbound.

The Bottom Line

Parking is undergoing an evolution, driven by changing transportation preferences, increasing housing pressures and the need to tackle climate challenges. Developers are responding to the growing demand for simpler, more affordable living options by exploring creative solutions like offering units with fewer parking spaces.

The bottom line? Instead of being bound by traditional parking norms, there's enormous potential in embracing a flexible, community-centred approach to urban planning where parking takes a back seat. It's not just about saving costs - it's about reimagining  entire neighbourhoods as vibrant, interconnected communities with fewer cars. This approach benefits residents, builders, and cities alike, promising a more vibrant and sustainable urban environment for everyone.


Architecture AU 2017, 'Car-free apartments prevail: Two Nightingale developments approved', available at: https://architectureau.com/articles/car-free-apartments-prevail-two-nightingale-developments-approved/ [Accessed: 24 February 2024].

De Gruyter, C., Truong, L.T., de Jong, G. et al. Determinants of zero-car and car-owning apartment households. Transportation (2024). https://rdcu.be/dz0NP

Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) 2022, 'Rider’s Digest Melbourne 2022', available at: https://www.rlb.com/oceania/wp-content/uploads/sites/1/2022/02/2022-RLB-Riders-Digest_Melbourne.pdf [Accessed: 24 February 2024].