Lifestyle

The Zero Parking; Nairobi Has a Lot to Gain from Recycling Car-Centric Space

Cars are made to be driven, but they spend just 5% of every day in motion. The rest of the time, vehicles in the Nairobi sit in the counties 14, 864 parking spaces, of which 3,941 are on-street parking, representing 26.5% of the total. Off-street parking slots are 3, 834 while 7,089 are building parking. Even if all of the vehicles in the city were to be on parking at once, including both passenger cars and on-road freight vehicles, there would be upwards of spots to spare. You don’t have to be an urban planner to believe that this is a pretty inefficient way to use land.

These calculations come courtesy of Donald Shoup, Research Professor at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and author of the book The High Cost of Free Parking. Shoup believes that current standards for parking need a dramatic overhaul; for the sake of urban density, livability, environmental protection, and a near future in which private car ownership will likely dwindle

Cheap Parking

It’s easy to take an abundance of cheap parking spaces for granted. Much of the infrastructure in the Nairobi was designed around our car-centric culture. After all, we have an average of 1 car for every 2 households. If you spend a lot of time cruising for parking in a big city, it may seem like spaces are scarce, but zooming out on satellite maps of urban and suburban areas paints a different picture.

Plus, all that cruising comes at a high financial and environmental cost. “I have estimated that cruising for underpriced car parking on the five blocks along Moi Avenue or Tom Mboya Street creates maybe 95,000 vehicle miles of unnecessary travel per year. That’s equivalent to 3 trips around the earth. And here’s an inconvenient truth about underpriced car parking: cruising those miles per year in wastes 170,000 litres of gasoline and produces 65000 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year.”

Mandatory Parking Minimums

Taxi parking takes up plenty of space, but surface lots are an even more contentious (and visible) waste of land. 

A project called What the Street visualizes just how much space that equates to, with Boston pictured above. A single parking lot on the waterfront, which is probably only partially filled most of the time, might occupy the equivalent space of hundreds of playgrounds.

A lot of parking space is driven by mandatory parking minimums instituted by city governments. These regulations might require a set number of parking spots for every 1,000 square feet of the building, but the criteria aren’t always the same; parking requirements are set according to the number of holes in a golf course, seats at a gentlemen’s club or beds in a hospital. For developers, all that parking doesn’t add a lot of value. Whether they play by the rules and include the number of spaces required or choose to pay a fine instead, the cost is often passed on to the end user in the form of higher rent.

Reimagining the Potential of Parking Space

The demand for all of these parking spaces may not last much longer. Private car ownership will be on a downward trend within twenty years. Car-sharing services like SWVL and Little Shuttle and ridesharing services like Uber and Bolt are already changing urban landscapes. And once driverless cars come our cities and suburbs could look very different than they do today. Freeways could shrink, former Taxi parking could become bike lanes or parklets, and surface lots could be transformed for myriad alternative uses. Add skate shoe deliveries to the equation, and it’s possible that even more space will open up and streets will grow quieter and safer.

A team of architects called 9 x 18, named for the average size of a parking space, have created a series of visualizations to show what a 250-square-foot space could become. Developers in Nairobi currently spend as much as 500,000 on a single parking spot, but using that space for housing, co-working spaces, bike share hubs, and other functions could net them a higher return on their investment. The planning focused on underutilized lots owned by the city of Nairobi. The catch is that for any of this to happen; city governments need to get on board.

Nairobi is among the towns actively anticipating changes in land use. The city aims to expand and integrate shared mobility services into its existing infrastructure, including public transportation, to further discourage the use of private cars. That means adding car share, bike share and taxi hubs to various points along transit routes, offering shuttle services, opening more streets to pedestrians and potentially even subsidizing smartphones for low-income residents to work in conjunction with free Wi-Fi. Existing parking spaces could be transformed into housing, street markets, and other programs that make the city feel more livable.

All of this could usher in a golden age for space planning as well as adaptive approaches to designing new parking facilities during the transition. Architects like Andy Cohen of the firm Gensler are already creating parking garages that can be rearranged into offices, classrooms, shops and other enclosed spaces, evading obsolescence.

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