#movingcity - Area development or parking development?

Parking plays a central role in the design of Dutch cities. For every new area development, official standards specify how many parking spaces must be created. These standards determine the street profile and building volumes and therefore limit the amount of housing, working space and green space a new area can contain. Yet we need more room for these things, not less, just as we do for the energy- and climate-related changes that must be made. So how can we bid farewell to parking-dependent developments and make space for a high-quality living environment? What will happen if we base our standards on mobility instead of parking?

The challenge: the chokehold of parking standards

Taking parking standards as a driving factor in area development puts a brake on housing growth. Every Dutch municipality sets a parking standard for each area on the basis of guidelines from the knowledge platform CROW. This can be as high as two spaces per new dwelling. Of course, reserving so much room for parking means less is left for public space and housing. This can be solved partly by placing parking (semi-)underground, making projects unnecessarily expensive. Accommodating cars appears to be a higher priority than housing people. In addition, parking standards keep our roadways filled with vehicles. Beyond making the streets unattractive and unsafe, this has an additional consequence: people in the Netherlands have got used to the luxury of having a car parked right outside the door. Driving is a convenient, tempting choice.

New construction projects almost always have to include on-site parking. The idea is to minimise the number of extra cars parking in public space. But whether that on-site parking is in a residential block’s ground-level courtyard, in a semi-basement, or underground, it causes significant spatial effects. Courtyards no longer contain greenery, with adverse consequences for biodiversity and climate adaptation. Every developer comes up with its own parking solution, leading to a lack of coherence. And every residential building features an unattractive section of plinth housing the garage entrance, and in the worst cases, a ramp in public space. Another problem is the threat to personal safety posed by deserted public spaces. Residents drive straight into their buildings and courtyards, never setting foot on the streets. Do we want to live in a place where children play outside and neighbours meet, or one where the car is close at hand? To prioritise environmental quality again, we must first of all free ourselves from the chokehold of parking standards. That starts with thinking differently about mobility.


The solution: sharing space and mobility

Parking standards were originally put in place to safeguard residents’ mobility. But cars aren’t and shouldn’t be the only means of getting around. So why not replace parking standards with mobility standards? This approach will do justice to the wide range of available transport modes. After all, bicycles, e-scooters, conventional scooters, walking, and so on also facilitate accessibility – as does placing services nearby. Hence, mobility standards will include all conditions necessary for accessibility.

Going a step further, prioritising shared mobility over individual vehicles will free up room for additional housing and better environmental quality. That quality will come from more greenery, more water, more services, but also from more collectivity in the city. The places where shared conventional and electric scooters, cargo bikes and cars are kept will be where every trip starts. People will walk down the streets again, on their way to pick up shared vehicles, instead of driving out of car parks underneath apartment buildings. Centring shared mobility at local hubs that also house amenities such as parcel services and neighbourhood libraries will allow residents to meet. The proximity of a wide choice of types of transport combined with the social element will replace the convenience of having one’s own car outside.

The Lincolnpark neighbourhood in Haarlemmermeer (currently in development) provides an example of how mobility hubs can respond to parking standards in a new way. In this sustainable development, parking spaces are provided in conformance with the norm but grouped at mobility hubs. Hence, limitations related to parking do not need to be taken into account in the design of the residential buildings. The hubs will provide shared mobility services, and multiple users are assumed for each parking spot, enabling the further reduction of space devoted to parking.

Switching from parking standards to mobility standards is an important first step in prioritising spatial quality. A second step is for municipalities to take more control of parking rather than leaving the spatial implementation of standards to developers. This will clear the way for clustered and collective solutions, such as garages at the edges of neighbourhoods and mobility hubs, which can be incorporated in developments from the beginning. The efficiency gains will make it easier to focus on the livability and walkability of our streets. And the mobility transition to slower traffic will get an instant push in the right direction. At the same time, more space will be freed up for the building of homes and other urgent tasks.

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In 2017 the municipality of Groningen asked us to map various scenarios for how alternative parking and mobility solutions could open up new spatial possibilities (see image above). We showed how assigning parking spaces a different function during the day or concentrating them at hubs or public transport points could free up room for sport and play, water, greenery and a greater diversity of housing.

The Funen project in Amsterdam by de Architekten Cie. provides a real-world example of how controlling parking leads to fewer cars on the streets and a nicer living environment (image left). Close to the railway line and the city centre, 16 residential buildings sit in a sheltered location, amid parklike landscaping. Cars are cleverly concealed in garages beneath the buildings that run along the edges of the site, and there are public transport stops at the development’s entrance. The new neighbourhood of Merwede in Utrecht, expected to welcome its first residents in 2025, will similarly be car-free, according to the parties involved. Walking, cycling, public transport and shared mobility (including some cars) will be the preferred means of getting around. A limited number of parking spaces will be available in garages at the edge of the neighbourhood. These decisions are enabling the municipality to realise a higher density of housing while also creating green, sustainable public spaces.


As a concept for use in designing the Netherlands’ increasingly limited space, parking standards are outdated. In view of the need to construct up to 1 million additional homes by 2050 while at the same time building a sustainable, pleasant living environment, new standards – or rather values – are urgently required. And they start with the question: what kind of city do we want? First and foremost, cities and villages should be places where people can live well, not traffic zones where cars get in the way. There are many ways of ensuring good access to and within these attractive environments. Private cars – which spend most of their time parked – have long ceased to be the most logical choice.

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