Allston’s No Parking Apartment Building is a Great But Terrible Idea

Boston's absurdly under-priced street parking strikes again, killing an innovative proposal.

parking in boston

(Illustration by Peter Crowther/Debut)

Last week, architect Sebastian Mariscal proposed a new apartment building with a controversial feature: No parking for cars. Today, in the face of community backlash, the proposal is dead.

On first pass, the idea seems kind of brilliant: What better way to encourage people to take public transit, bike, or walk, then to construct a building without space for any cars? Beyond that, since the lot wouldn’t be marred by a parking garage or above-ground lot, Mariscal could put more green space on the property. As he told Emily Badger at the Atlantic Cities:

“When you remove the car component as the main design challenge,” Mariscal says, “your way of thinking about design is completely different. The possibilities that open for a more environmentally friendly and human design – they are endless.”

Granted, there are a few immediate practical concerns with a building with no parking: What if you get a new job in the suburbs and have to commute? What if you have a kid?

The biggest problem, though, is that there was no real way to enforce the building’s “no parking” rule because residents could simply get a free resident’s parking sticker and leave their car on the street. Which, of course, is exactly what Allston residents complained about in order to get the proposal squashed: Mariscal’s building was simply shifting the cost of on-site parking spaces onto the city—which is totally unfair.

Ultimately, the problem here is Boston’s absurdly under-priced street parking. As I wrote in October:

Boston has set aside a ton of spaces for resident-only parking in neighborhoods, and it charges nothing for the permits to use them. And what happens when it doesn’t cost anything to keep cars parked on the street? They stay there. Today more than 311,000 vehicles are registered in Boston, and more than 87,000 of them have residential parking permits. Each of those cars takes up around 160 square feet—the size of a street spot—of prime city real estate.“You have some of the most valuable land on earth, and you’re giving it away for free to cars,” says Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, and the author of The High Cost of Free Parking. “It’s preposterous.”

Boston’s cheap street parking results in a bad case of trickle-down parking economics: Since the city charges nothing for resident spaces, you can justify having a car because it’s free to keep it on the street—even if your building doesn’t provide a space.

If, however, the city started charging a fair and accurate price for street parking, then we’d see far fewer cars on the street, because it’d be far more expensive to keep them here. In that case, Mariscal’s building would make total sense: If you really want to have a car, pay up. Our streets aren’t free.