By David N. Welton
In your recent editorial about “trendy ideas about housing and parking,” you left out something we value highly in the U.S.: the freedom to make our own choices about the value of various amenities.
Before we return to Bend, though, let’s stop in the snowy mountain town of Innsbruck, Austria, where my wife and I were fortunate enough to live for a few years. We lived in an apartment building of some 20-odd units — and no parking spot for our car, nor for most of the other occupants of the building. We parked it in an area about 15 minutes away on foot where parking was abundant and it was not in anyone’s way. This was a choice we made of our own free will. We chose the lower price and convenient location of that apartment over one with parking. If we were to return with our two children, perhaps we would make a different choice, but it was great to have that option.
The idea of individuals being free to choose the type housing and quantity of parking that suits them is neither new nor trendy. In Bend, we have the Broadway apartments, which are older than Dan Parolek, the architect behind the “Missing Middle” presentation. Some of the Old Mill houses don’t provide the two parking spots that Bend’s code mandates — and yet, they are some of the most desirable real estate in town, measured by the price per square foot.
Allowing other types of housing beyond single-family or duplexes in larger areas of Bend would, in some ways, be preferable to the large groups of apartments we see going up to meet the housing shortage. Mixing some different types of housing among single-family homes would create more of a gentle transition than that between an apartment complex and the surrounding area. The apartments are sorely needed, but we should be willing to try other approaches as well, especially those that have worked well historically.
Even if housing doesn’t provide parking, yes, people will still have cars. They will park them on our public streets, where it’s legal to do so, just as the rest of us do from time to time. Perhaps it will not be as convenient for them as parking in a driveway, and perhaps they’ll have to move them from time to time in winter if Bend gets a system where cars must move to facilitate plowing alternate sides of the street, but this is a choice people should be free to make, rather than the government imposing a minimum number of parking spots. Those of us with garages and driveways will lose nothing.
Ending our experiment with parking minimums isn’t just a “trendy idea” from sunny Berkeley. It has broad support from a variety of people with different views — the right-wing American Enterprise Institute makes the same recommendations on parking, as well as The Economist. In September, the Obama administration also made a similar recommendation.
In the face of a growing housing crisis, the appeal of the idea to a broad ideological spectrum is obvious: Rather than relying on government subsidies or more regulation, removing a rule that makes housing expensive is a simple, market-friendly way to make housing affordable for more people.
As to the idea that there will be nowhere to park, one need only look at aerial photography of Bend to see that outside of a few very limited spots at peak times, there is a vast sea of empty parking that contributes little to nothing to our city’s economy, tax base or urban vitality.
— David N. Welton lives in Bend.