Friday 23 October 2015

The dirty secret of Yuppie urbanist's parking waivers: car ownership on the public teat

Summary: Among other things, New Urbanism principles favour policies that reduce the ownership and use of cars in order to improve liveability for all residents. In practice, Yuppie Urbanism uses the cover of progressive urban reform to primarily pursue the narrow interests of professional elites. Broad Shoup-style parking reforms are typically thrown in the too hard basket, and so obtaining waivers (special exemptions) from off-street parking minimums is a common element of new urbanism projects where commensurate car ownership and parking demand can be reduced. An egalitarian, scalable interest in policies that actually reduced private car ownership would seek unavoidable tradeoffs (no cheating) that were open to all developers and residents. The dirty secret of campaigns for parking waivers on specific projects is that some of these urban elites are cheating - escaping the cost of contributing to car parking supply while still owning private vehicles they park in free or highly-subsidised public space (e.g. on-street). In this post, I look at a specific example in Melbourne and discuss how it could be resolved fairly for genuine, scalable community benefit.

Nightingale proposed development in Brunswick

Related Posts:
> See the lifestyle choices category of this blog.

Cross-posted to FB Group Urban Happinesshere.
(If you want to discuss this or see what other's have to say, best to do it there).

TL:DR Summary
This is constructive criticism so for those who wish to debate it, please refer to the below diagram first and consider my arguments through this lens.

- The VCAT decision revealed the dirty secret about The Commons resident's car ownership and use and the deliberate lack of transparency about it, with no new measures proposed to address these deficiencies with Nightingale. Until then, I'd accepted the proponent's ambitions about car-free living at face value and presumed them to be working on Approach 2 and thought the City of Moreland might have started also doing something in Approach 3 (e.g. extending on-street parking permit requirements in this precinct). It turned out both took the easy path and appear to be limiting efforts to Approach 1 (no change at all to rules, policies, tradeoffs, enforcement, investment, etc just another special exemption from the existing flawed rules).

- Focusing on the car-free living ambition and justification (the reason for my posting on this transport cycling blog), it should be obvious why I am so critical of Approach 1: it is not a genuine attempt to do what's feasible to ensure car-free households occupy these apartments. This is abundantly clear from the reaction to the outcomes of the first experiment at The Commons. No-one is prepared to even reveal the full facts about the extent of private car ownership or use. Evidently, eliminating private car use can hardly be a serious, genuine ambition of Breathe Architecture, the City of Moreland or most of the residents.

- The recent VCAT decision on Nightingale provides an opportunity for real, scalable reform: Approach 2 and Approach 3. I'm most interested in preserving and fixing the car-free living ambition via Approach 2 - by seeing a replicable template for strict tradeoffs enforced (zero-parking or no basement parking required in an apartment block as long as residents are not allowed to park their cars in free or subsidised public space). This is perfectly feasible for the City of Moreland to deliver in this precinct. Nevertheless, zero-parking projects can certainly drop their car-free ambitions (if they aren't capable or willing to deliver on them), but this also entails dropping this justification for special exemptions from the current planning rules (Approach 1). To deliver zero-parking projects, they would then need to switch to Approach 3 Shoup-style parking reform (see below). This involves much more difficult work, which is why only those with serious, long-term interests in tackling the big structural problems ever take this on.

Once you start dealing honestly and seriously with the issue of reducing private car ownership, car-dependence and car use you realise why scalability and tractability matters. Rather than simplistic, phoney claims about being car-free, the urgent need is to create real, tractable, scalable pathways toward actually reducing private car ownership and use. Any addition or change to the housing stock by any developer could then leverage such pathways to some extent and scale over time.

- Some of the most pertinent fundamental reforms (Approach 3) relating to car-centric parking rules and incentives could be addressed along the lines of the well-known Donald Shoup prescriptions referenced below: removing parking minimum rules, charging for all on-street parking, returning revenue to locals directly through discounts on rates or via neighbourhood improvements. I have less interest in this domain except as it relates to creating more space and incentives for not using cars. I am more interested in fundamental reforms that relate directly to alternatives to car use: better policies and investment in cycling, walking, facilitating public transport use, and multi-modal solutions.

- I argue that "New Urbanists" who stubbornly reuse Approach 1 when there are feasible, scalable problem-solving changes available in Approach 2 or 3, are guilty of Yuppie Urbanism - primarily pursuing their narrow self-interest under the cover of being part of broad, urban improvement for everyone. One can, of course, state this more generically as Selfish Urbanism but I prefer to leverage the considerable, rich source of writing (primarily from North America) critiquing the narrow, self-interest of much new urbanism campaigning by elites. (See example links under Further Info).

Note: A much more damning critique of projects like The Commons and Nightingale with respect to Yuppie Urbanism vs Egalitarian Urbanism can be made with respect to these project's claims to be addressing the social issue of housing affordability. In reality, these types of projects are targeted at the income levels and priorities of a quite narrow cohort. They will not scale to address the needs of the much larger, lower-income cohorts for whom housing affordability is a critical issue (including opening up long-term renting opportunities in city locations with much better job, service and amenity access). I have focused only on the car-free aspect on this blog, but will address the other issues on another blog. In the meantime, you can find much enlightening discussion by simply reading critiques of new urbanism.

1. Yuppie outcry as VCAT rejects a complete waiver of off-street parking provision for a 20 apartment block
The trigger for this post was the recent VCAT decision to overturn the permit granted for a new 20 apartment development in Brunswick known as Nightingale. The local government (City of Moreland) gave the developer a complete waiver of having to provide any off-street parking. This was challenged by a developer of an adjacent apartment block which would have to provide a minimum quota of off-street parking (even if it didn't wish to) and the VCAT arbiter agreed the permit should be overturned.

The Age journalist Clay Lucas either didn't read or understand the decision and published a greenwash article that amounted to this argument:
The project's architect, Jeremy McLeod from Breathe Architecture – which also designed and oversaw Brunswick's award-winning Commons apartments, which is over the road and similarly has no car parking – said each buyer was saving $30,000 per dwelling by not having parking.  "Why should someone who doesn't have a car have to pay for a basement car park?" asked McLeod.
Because, according to VCAT, there is nothing as convenient as owning an automobile.
The Age: Green building with no car parking thrown out by VCAT for having no car parking
It turns out this argument is completely bogus. The VCAT Member (Russell Byard) exposed as fiction the proposition that no contribution to off-street parking supply was required as there was no addition to parking demand. The dirty secret of The Commons  (the precursor model for Nightingale) is that several of the current residents do own, access and use private cars that simply exploit public space instead - including permit-free streets (see excerpts from the VCAT decision below).

Comments on The Age article

Breathe Architecture, Nightingale supporters, the City of Moreland, the Greens political party and new urbanists who ignore, hide or facilitate the flaws in the proposed tradeoff (no private car ownership traded for lower cost, liveable housing) are not achieving scalable car-free living and housing development. Instead, they are betraying it. Consequently, making it much harder to implement broad-based, long-term policies that could entrench a fair tradeoff that was win-win for everyone.
2. A brief summary of why the permit objection was upheld by VCAT and why I agree with the decision
I posted the below as a comment on The Age article but it was rejected.

Sadly, the consensus view shared by this reporter, experts and "progressive" social media commenters that this was a retrograde or unjustified decision is wrong.

As someone who lives in the inner city, hasn't used a car for local transport for years, and runs a blog - - on how cycling can be a superior transport solution, you'd expect me to rip into this VCAT decision. And I was going to! But first I actually read the entirety of the decision. See:

It turns out my instincts were mistaken. VCAT Member Byard actually provides a strong rationale for the decision and exposes where the specific fault lies: with the City of Moreland's planning rules, processes, evidence, reasoning and consistency with respect to required parking provision (especially giving complete waivers); as well as with the submissions made by Nightingale proponents relating to parking demand generated vs parking supplied.

The much more interesting story here is the dirty secret that emerged: that despite The Commons being optimally located and designed to make private car ownership and use unnecessary, a significant proportion of current residents own, access or use private cars. Ironically, they exploit the real commons - public streets - to store these cars at both ends of their trips.

So don't shoot the messenger (VCAT Member Byard) for exposing the fiction of the simplistic assertion that eliminating off-street parking provision eliminates parking demand. And it's also ridiculous to lambaste him for claiming there's "nothing as convenient as private car ownership" when many residents of these "deep green" apartments find this convenience so irresistable they surmount any obstacle to private car ownership and use -  like parking their car further away on no-permit streets or exploiting other space not intended for their car storage.

The bullshit detector of most citizens goes off when they hear of these simplistic, narrow, greenwashed solutions to eliminating private car ownership and use. This is a complex problem with a lot of major changes required (planning rules, Shoup-style parking reforms, genuine affordable housing and density policies like opening up zoning, removing some heritage restrictions and replacing Stamp Duty with a universal land value tax, actual investment and policy changes to shift people to using transit, cycling & walking, job access, individual values and choices, cultural change). Of particular interest to those interested in car-free living: making alternatives like public transport, cycling and walking an attractive first choice for those with the most suitable circumstances is a key element which requires massive, ongoing investment. Yet, to pick just one example, the City of Moreland and State Government have yet to make any substantial improvements for cycling in Brunswick even when popular support briefly emerges after tragic incidents like the dooring death on Sydney Rd.

Until progress on these major reforms does occur, apartment blocks of such size (20-24 units) should be permissible in locations like this with no car parking provided - but only if you 100% ensure residents (current and future) aren't allowed to park their cars for free, or with considerable subsidies, in public space.

Australian cities need a gradual reshuffling of who chooses to live where, such that those best suited to being car-free can relocate to the optimal areas and housing types. Instead of simply hoping for this 100% car-free rate in developments targeted for special exemptions, the City of Moreland and relevant architects/developers should work to genuinely ensure it. And then no-one will object to the parking inequity, and the plaudits for progressive urbanism will be truly deserved.

3. What do scalable, equitable reforms focused on the whole community's interests look like?
Below are some ideas that easily came to mind, which I've listed primarily to demonstrate that there are abundant areas of practical reform available. In determining actual initiatives, there is plenty of real expertise, research, case studies, and off-the-shelf improvements to review, adapt and implement. See the examples under Further Info.

- Firstly, campaigning for parking waivers (special exemptions from the current rules) for the specific projects that you have a stake in instead of consistent, evidence-based application of reformed parking and planning rules is a clear sign of Yuppie Urbanism.

- Indeed, the true test of whether you've achieved a scalable, valuable reform in rules and policies is precisely how frequently competing projects and developers leverage these new circumstances to obtain the same win-win benefits (e.g. lower development costs, more affordable housing, more housing diversity, better choices for car-free households, less traffic and on-street parking congestion).

- Local and State governments have to tackle the more complex and difficult changes required (planning rules, collecting and applying objective evidence on parking equitably, justifying to residents why the costs for using public space have to go up, etc). Simply greenlighting a favoured eco-development here and there has trivial long-term impact.

- Within walking distance of all areas where parking waivers would be desirable, real barriers, significant costs, and enforcement of restrictions on parking on-street have to be implemented. Currently, car-owning residents of The Commons or Nightingale can just walk 2 minutes to permit-free parking on the other side of the railway line. The City of Moreland can make changes to eliminate this cheating but so far has chosen not to.

- A more efficient, lower-hassle alternative to permits in many residential-only streets is time limits on parking that are properly enforced. This prevents private car storage by non-residents without adding the hassles of permits for residents and visitors.

- Apart from requiring parking permits in these areas (or implementing other restrictions on storage like time limits), the cost needs to be raised significantly to market rates (it should be more like $200/year than $33/year with annual increases taking it up to the market value of each public space). Property rates could be reduced by an equivalent aggregate such that properties without off-street parking became a clearer tradeoff for those who could go car-free as well as those who can't or won't. Permits could also be stamped with the licence plate of the authorised owner's vehicle so that they couldn't be resold to others. Or more innovative ways of breaking out market-priced parking "cashbacks" for visibility of owners and tenants could be trialled.

- Ultimately, the best solutions for more fairly and efficiently managing on-street parking is via modern market pricing and allocation mechanisms. Local governments like the City of Moreland could cap the number of on-street permits and manage the market for them. To make the introduction of such a change politically-feasible they could discount permits for existing residents with subsidised on-street parking use. Over time the cap could be reduced and the higher costs of car storage on public streets would lead to less car ownership or market-based provision of off-street car parking.

This "cap and trade" permit solution was explained in more detail by a commenter - Smith John - on Alan Davies' article The Urbanist - Are councils dealing with the problem of inner suburban parking?

- Eliminating the need for basement parking is a huge cost saving that should be obtained where appropriate. An obvious solution to the issue of smaller parking contributions being required to match minimal extra parking demand is initiatives that allow this contribution to be off-site, such as via paid arrangements with third party private or government parking suppliers. Near The Commons and Nightingale there is an ample parking lot opposite the market and there are also private and City of Moreland spaces nearby (including unutilised spaces in other apartment blocks) where paid parking arrangements could be used. Alternatively, proportionate levies paid to local government could also fund public parking provision or costs. There are significant efficiences to be had from pooling contributions in some cases rather than forcing every development to meet only its own needs directly.

- Simply eliminating the provision of off-street parking and situating housing near public transport and an activity area is nowhere near enough to ensure car-free living. If the costs of basement parking can be saved then levies paid to local government could also fund improvements for cycling and walking in the immediate area.

- Local governments really do need to proactively facilitate the much-needed reshuffling of who chooses to live where, such that those best suited to being car-free can relocate to the optimal areas and housing types. Planning rules and permit conditions are one critical way in which concessions like complete parking waivers can be used to ensure there are considerable, long-term advantages for the genuinely car-free (owners or tenants). This reshuffling can never occur at the rate needed unless substantial tradeoffs are ensured. State governments also need to replace stamp duty with land tax (or higher council rates based on site value) so as to make moving home - due to job changes or life stage - much easier.

- Note that it's important not to misapply this enforced tradeoff in locations where non-car transport options - particularly public transport - aren't abundant. Given the cost of basement off-street parking, there are locations where there is no on-street parking congestion and so utilising it should be permissible if it provides affordable housing.

- Finally, it's important to remember that the extent and complexity of planning rules and processes often adds massive costs, delays and barriers to responsive supply of affordable housing options. A key principle to reform has to be simplification and elimination of burdensome, counterproductive rules and procedures. See: The Antiplanner - Planning Is the Problem, Not the Solution

4. Examples of parking waiver cases and how they've been handled or solved
It is worthwhile learning from various cases to see what solutions have been tried, and what does and doesn't work.

A recent one of interest from Washington DC is discussed here: Greater Greater Washington - Can a housing development go up in Petworth if it doesn't build new parking?

It is useful to note that in the above case the shape of the lot prevented a basement parking garage and so the issue becomes what other things the developer and owners can be required to do to meet any parking needs:
To manage parking, Rooney Properties (the developer) is planning to provide new residents with SmarTrip cards, a bike share membership and car share membership for the first three years. Rooney is also including space for bicycle maintenance and storage within the new building, and the lobby of the building will offer a transit screen that shows the number of bikes available and a real-time Metro train schedule. 
Finally, Rooney is also actively seeking off-street parking options and ha noted that several of the recent buildings in the area that have off-street parking are not parked up. The developer would be willing to provide free parking in these garages to new residents for three years as well.
Can a housing development go up in Petworth if it doesn't build new parking?
I'm not involved in property, development or planning and never intend to be so have little inclination to become an expert. Yet, any intelligent person who does this work for a living should be able to do this research and at least try to implement actual solutions. If people commenting on blogs can do so, so can the hundreds of paid staff in local government or organisations with a stake in scalable solutions.

Here's just one example of a comment discussing real, innovative, scalable solutions on the above Petworth case:
a) no Residential Parking Permits for the development, with
b) the TOD (transit-oriented development) measures the developers have already agreed to, and
c) a further assurance that the developer acquire the right to lease a reduced number (due to Metro proximity) of offstreet parking spots at other buildings that are not parked up (so that an expected number of residents have the option of acquiring a spot if they need to) and this should not be an issue. 
If the ANC really wanted to press it, I'd say they should shoot for getting rid of the 3 year sunsets and have the city make the TOD items and parking spot lease-options be an obligation built into the building title that transfers to whoever owns it in perpetuity (developer, rental property owner, or HOA).
Here's another example from Boston of the architect jumping through the hoops with local government to make the affordability vs no car ownership tradeoff legally enforceable:
Mariscal trusts his would-be tenants, but he suspects that the neighbors won’t. And if he is planning – controversially – to build zero new parking with his development, the least he can do is guarantee the community that his renters won’t crowd out their cars. 
The blunt way to frame this whole idea is that it is not precisely legal, at least under existing regulation. "I would use a different word," Mariscal says. “What I want to do requires a variance.” And to get one he must go through myriad hearings and community meetings to obtain special permission from, first, the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Mariscal has already been at the process for nine months, and he figures he has a few more to go.
Is Boston Ready for an Apartment Building That Bars Cars?
5. The "If not here, then where?" argument for granting zero parking provision
This argument for zero parking provision being justified in Nightingale's location (next to a train station and key bike path, close to amenties and services) was emphasised by proponents and supporters of Nightingale. The VCAT response was entirely reasonable given the current planning and parking rules which the City of Moreland did nothing to revise or improve upon.

However, I'd also add one other rebuttal. I'm not persuaded by rhetoric, TED talks, PowerPoint presentations or glib assertions regarding car-free living being delivered. The real challenge for proponents of zero parking provision who argue they deserve special waivers is to demonstrate that they actually delivered car-free households over the long run. But if their actual position is that some households will inevitably own cars then consistent rules must apply and hence broad parking reform is required (e.g. reforms toward the Shoup prescription: removing all off-street parking minimums, charging market prices for all on-street parking, and returning dividends to local areas).

In terms of this transport cycling blog, I'm interested in initiatives that holistically resolve all of the challenges inherent in transitioning car-dependent urban residents to living car-free or at least car-lite (no private ownership but use car share, carpooling and even Uber/taxis when necessary).

Given all the hype about The Commons model, to find out the extent of actual private car ownership and use was most enlightening. Consequently, I am offended by this simplistic "if not here, then where?" argument which relies on the myth that The Commons did deliver car-free living for virtually all of its households.

The ideal suitability of the location actually only establishes a contrary argument: that despite this near-optimal location, the reality of car ownership and use at The Commons proves that its approach to delivering car-free households is inadequate. Given this perfect test case, only selfish, Yuppie Urbanists would seek to hide this dirty secret and persist with promulgating these expedient myths.

Why should the community give eco-hypocrite yuppies special exemptions worth $30,000 per apartment for not owning cars when they secretly own and use private cars anyway and externalise the cost to the public commons?

Genuine progressive urbanists would be interested in clearly establishing the real facts so as to eliminate the defects and improve the approach and outcomes. An obvious start is to accurately assess all vehicle ownership, use and parking arrangements at The Commons. The relevant questions are obvious and simple to answer but intentionally have not been. So let's start with just one:

Q1: Out of the 24 households at The Commons, how many private motor vehicles are owned or used and where are they parked?

If necessary, I will personally pay (including to the household) for accurate information about motor vehicle ownership, use and parking arrangements at The Commons seeing as it hasn't been forthcoming elsewhere and appears to be such a guilty secret. Feel free to contact me: loboadrian AT gmail

Below is just one example of commentary on the VCAT decision that is appalled that Melbourne's "insidious car culture" blocked the perfectly positioned Nightingale. How ironic that it was actually the insidious private car ownership and on-street parking by residents of The Commons that led the VCAT Member to overturn Nightingale's permit.

Urban Melbourne: Plan Melbourne must enshrine steps to purge our insidious car culture

6. <Updated Jan 2016> City of Moreland prompted to act by VCAT rejection of Nightingale - but not to create scalable rule and incentive changes but simply to preserve their freedom to favour a few preferred projects with exemptions
Interestingly, the VCAT decision on Nightingale has exposed the true colours of some Yuppie Urbanists and misguided priorities of "progressive" local government politicians. They accept that special exemptions (Approach 1) are inconsistent, inequitable and don't scale, but rather than pursue genuine reform, instead they fight to preserve and extend their special exemption privileges.

Apparently, it's all too hard and too unpopular to work on tractable, scalable pathways to reducing car ownership and use by equitably changing the rules and incentives for all new developments and existing housing too. But local politicians are happy to pour ratepayers money into fighting for their sole discretion to ignore their own planning rules and policies when it suits them, rather than actually fix them.

The wilful deceit about The Commons and Nightingale being car-free continues apace. This short-term thinking and bluster is destined for further setbacks, as unless the hard work is actually done at all levels - government, developers, residents - to unlock car-free living, there will always be some private car ownership and use in these developments. The reality that residents are not car-free will continue to be the hurdle these special exemptions and Yuppie privileges fail to clear.

Moreland Councillor Meghan Hopper continues to insist The Commons is car-free and Nightingale would be too and thus merit zero parking waivers.

If I'm right that the City of Moreland is on track to do nothing substantial to change the rules and shift the incentives for car-free living, private car ownership and use at The Commons will remain considerable and will grow over time at Nightingale too. But even if this exemption model was successful it offers no incentives for other developers or existing housing owners. In Councillor Hopper's own words, it applies to only two buildings in all of Moreland.

City of Moreland council debate on motion to seek changes to zero parking rules

Herald Sun
Moreland councillors call for updated planning laws to allow zero carbon emission buildings with 

While local government politicians like Meghan Hopper take positions that are inconsistent and populist (fighting for zero parking for just two favoured developments and rejecting it for others like at Oak Park), occasionally their own staff admit that it is the City of Moreland's planning scheme which needs revision to provide an equitable, logical framework for parking reductions and complete waivers. The City of Melbourne and City of Sydney both have planning schemes that do precisely this:
Moreland City Council group manager city development Phillip Priest says the VCAT decision means the council needs to revisit its planning scheme, and other councils will be taking a close look as well. 
“What this means for the council now is that we need to look further into how we can strengthen the sustainability objectives regarding car parking and total waivers of car parking,” Mr Priest says. 
“We will have to run a planning scheme amendment and do the research and put in place a framework where we would accept development without parking and then VCAT would need to consider that planning framework. 
“The conversation now has to happen with council,” he said. “I don’t believe we are alone.” Moreland is not. The City of Melbourne, for instance, exempts new apartment buildings from parking, something the council is looking to roll out in its near CBD suburbs as well. The City of Sydney also has no minimum car parking requirements and at least 10 new apartment buildings have no parking, according to the Lord Mayor.
The Fifth Estate - Nightingale sings despite VCAT snare
But while Phillip Priest seems to understand their rules need to be changed, other City of Moreland staff continue with the contradictions, inconsistency and inequity of their current rules, strategy and on-street parking management. Primarily, because they wish to pick and choose according to their personal, subjective preferences which developments to confer privileges on. In Jan 2016, the City of Moreland lost again at VCAT, this time for rejecting a zero parking apartment in East Brunswick:
The state planning tribunal has approved a five-storey, green apartment building in East Brunswick with zero car parking, just three months after it rejected a similar development proposal because it lacked car parking. The VCAT decision is a defeat for the City of Moreland, which had blocked the development because it believed it would put too much pressure on demand for nearby on-street parking. The positions taken by Moreland and VCAT are a complete reversal of the stance each took in a dispute over the proposed Nightingale apartment building in Brunswick in October. 
Kirsten Coster, Moreland's director of planning, said the council rejected the application for 451 Lygon Street because it had inadequate car parking and inadequate daylight for future occupants. "Council planning officers judged that while it was reasonable to have reduced car parking, particularly due to the site's proximity to bus and tram services, it was not acceptable to have none," Ms Coster said. 
The fact Nightingale was virtually next door to Anstey railway station also made its case more compelling, Ms Coster added. "Nightingale also went much further with its measures to drive and support modal shift away from cars," she said.
Five storeys, zero car parks: VCAT gives green light to contentious building
Meanwhile, at least some of the professionals in this space chided the media and "Nightingale Universe" denizens for their inability to actually read and understand the VCAT decision or the substantive issues that need reform. At a seminar hosted by the Victorian Planning & Environmental Law Association (VPELA), the three unbiased experts looked past the hype and special-interest outrage to shift the focus to the broad reforms that are needed:
Tamara Brezzi, Partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, cast an impartial planning and legal eye across the VCAT decision, noting that it was ultimately clause 52.06 (car parking) and the Nightingale application’s inclusion of a waiver of car parking requirements which determined the order. To crudely summarise, the Tribunal “found insufficient policy support for a complete waiver” which led to Brezzi’s asking of the equity question: were the proposal approved, then what about everyone else? In closing, Brezzi criticised the media for not fairly representing all matters and serving to heighten confusion and prejudice before urging all in the audience to read the decision. 
Utilising live audience polling, Traffic Engineer Brett Young of Ratio Consultants provided a snapshot of transport modes across Melbourne before making environmental and fiscal arguments for not owning a car. Young perceived the Tribunal’s decision to be a fair one, acknowledging that it wasn’t until he had digested the entire decision that he had reached this position. Always positive, Young stressed that the decision was not all ‘doom and gloom’ for the future of developments with low or no parking provisions, introducing to the seminar a suite of alternative approaches to regulation which were not limited to on-street parking controls, the place of car-share, and other sustainable alternatives. 
The last speaker Stephen Rowley, Lecturer at RMIT University, offered a further critique not of the decision but of the statutory mechanism that is clause 52.06. Opening with a tongue-in-cheek slide showing aerial views of Rome (‘parking shortage’) in comparison to Denver (‘adequate parking’), it was clear from the outset where the talk might go. Arguing that our status quo ‘predict and provide’ model is discredited, Rowley considered car parking as an amenity impact of land use while acknowledging the place of built form outcomes in driving the need to drive. Rowley agreed with Young’s alternatives to minimum parking requirements and added others, stressing in particular the need for a regional approach to demand rather than a site-by-site approach, noting that VCAT has for some time been ‘ringing the same bell’.
VPELA Seminar: VCAT's Nightingale decision, car parking and the future of sustainable development
And Alan Davies who writes The Urbanist blog for Crikey agrees with much of my critique and argues that local government needs to actually deliver broad reform if it is to achieve their claimed aspirations for sustainable transport and development:
The Nightingale decision highlights a number of important points for policy. 
First, councils need to get serious about encouraging developments with zero or significantly reduced parking. You can’t increase car use at the same time as you increase density (and in the inner suburbs you don’t have to). 
Second, councils should prepare and enforce ancillary policies to ensure residents of developments with zero or reduced parking can’t “free-ride”. 
Third, councils need to review the effectiveness of green travel plans. In too many cases appearances seem to matter more than substance. 
Fourth, councils need to be alert to the seductiveness of greenwashing; they should be pursuing real outcomes, not waving flags. 
Fifth, councils and state governments need to take a bigger view of parking; one that begins with understanding that residents don’t own on-street parking. It’s more usefully thought of, as parking expert Paul Barter suggests, as a “commons”. 
Finally, planners and the media in Victoria should accept that VCAT did what Council was supposed to have done in the first place; apply the law. It’s the job of councils and state governments to get the policy and implementation right
The Urbanist - Are councils dealing with the problem of inner suburban parking?

7. Excerpts from the VCAT decision overturning the planning permit approval for Nightingale


In short this case concerns a proposal for the clearing from a site of existing developments and their replacement with a new five storey mixed use development with two office areas on the ground floor and 20 apartments on the upper floors with generous parking accommodation for bicycles and none at all for motor cars.


The objector is Chaucer Enterprises Pty Ltd (Chaucer). It has an interest in adjoining land, also proposed for development. Its complaint is not that the responsible authority has determined to grant permission for the project, but that it has done so without any provision for on site car parking. Chaucer agrees that a reduction in the standard planning scheme requirement for car parking, indeed a substantial reduction, is appropriate in the circumstances. It does not agree that a complete waiver or reduction to nothing of the car parking requirement is appropriate.

This more recent referral response appears to be in stark and anomalous contrast to the equivalent response of 23 February 2015 in relation to the Florence proposal. The equivalent passage in relation to the Florence proposal reads as follows:
The Commons (7-9 Florence Street) has been occupied since December 2013. Details of car ownership rates within the fully occupied 25 dwellings should be provided by the applicant in support of this request for a complete waiver.
The green travel plan incorporates mandatory car share and public transport costs into the owner’s corporation fees and is therefore considered a suitably robust model to support a car free proposal.
The site has very good access to public transport with Anstey Train Station, the 503 bus and tram route 19 all within a 5 minute walk of the site. The Upfield bike path also passes close to the site. A car-share bay exists on street opposite the property. 50 bicycle parking spaces are provided onsite and 14 are proposed in the street.
Given the above and that the car-free intent of the development is made clear to all prospective buyers, the parking waiver is considered acceptable for the residents.

How did the referee come to write that last paragraph without the request in relation to The Commons car ownership having been complied with? Conversely, why was The Commons information sought, if it was not needed?

In any event, it is not only what is acceptable to the residents. What about other and nearby land owners, residents, tenants, commercial users and the public generally? Are they to be imposed upon, and parking opportunities in the streets nearby to be devoted to these two private developments to the exclusion of others and their visitors and customers, and where other developments are required to make a contribution to meet the car parking demand that they generate?

Although the various ‘green’ attributes of The Commons and the proposed Nightingale are commendable, those commendations are something separate from the provision of on site car parking and whether it should be completely waived. A development might be as green as can be, in all sorts of ways, and still generate a parking demand which should be considered on its own merits. The parking demand should be considered separately from greenness. A green development may generate a demand for parking and it is that, and not greenness in other respects, that must be considered. It may be that people attracted to a green development might also be more likely than the average to avoid car ownership but that does not, by any means, mean an absence of car ownership or an absence of parking demand. Indeed, the evidence in this case, including that in relation to The Commons, is to the contrary. How can it be good planning, or equitable in relation to Chaucer and other developers, that they should be required to contribute to the meeting of the parking demand they generate whilst The Commons and Florence are to be excused? If The Commons and Florence are to excused, why not Chaucer and all the others, including those yet to be proposed? I consider that this would be poor planning, and contrary to the purposes of clause 52.06 (to be discussed later). It would create just the sort of congestion that clause 52.06 seeks to avoid and would cause on street parking spill over well beyond the immediate area.

It appears to me that the information sought by the Development Advice Engineer in relation to The Commons was never obtained because of this paragraph at the top of page 17 of the officers’ report. It reads:
Whether some occupiers of 7-9 Florence Street have cars should not preclude the proposed development from being permitted to have a parking reduction. This type of development actively discourages car ownership, but it cannot prohibit it. Nevertheless, occupiers will only be able to park in the street in accordance with parking regulations. Owners and/or occupiers of the premises will not be eligible for any Council parking permits to allow for on street parking. This is noted in the recommendation.

It is not only the immediately nearby areas likely to be subjected to parking. The Neighbourhood Residential Zone, on the west side of the railway line, is not subject to council parking restrictions. As the quotation notes, whatever encouragement or discouragement there might be, car ownership at The Commons, and at Nightingale, cannot be prohibited. In fact evidence subsequently gathered in relation to The Commons indicates that a demand is generated by people who do own motor cars. This is common ground on the traffic engineering evidence from both sides, the only difference being in relation to the number and percentage of car owners.


The above quotation refers to parking reduction, an expression frequently used in evidence and argument at the hearing, and in various documents referred to. The issue in this case is not that there should be a mere reduction. Indeed, it is common ground, not only that there can and should be a reduction, but there can and should be a substantial reduction from standard requirements. The issue raised by Chaucer is not that, but an objection that there should not be waiver or a reduction to zero. Chaucer maintains that Florence, like other developments, should make a contribution towards meeting the parking demand it generates. That is the issue. Repeated pointing to evidence or considerations justifying a reduction, or a substantial reduction, does not necessarily justify waiver or reduction to zero with no contribution where a demand is generated.


The purposes of clause 52.06 read:

To ensure that car parking is provided in accordance with the State Planning Policy Framework and Local Planning Policy Framework.

To ensure the provision of an adequate number of car parking spaces having regard to the demand likely to be generated, the activities on the land and the nature of the locality.

To support sustainable transport alternatives to the motorcar.

To promote the efficient use of car parking spaces through the consolidation of car parking facilities.

To ensure that car parking does not adversely affect the amenity of the locality.

To ensure that the design and location of car parking is of a high standard, creates a safe environment for users and enables easy and efficient use.

I have emphasised the second purpose above because of its obvious importance, and because it does not appear, in the present case, to have been afforded that importance by the responsible authority or Nightingale.

As part of the Nightingale application GTA Consultants were engaged to assess the Car Parking Demand Assessment but limited only to the commercial aspects of the proposal. I do not understand why such a limitation was imposed or why the assessment did not include the residential aspects which were clearly important.

It is really also common ground that The Commons, does generate a demand for parking. There is dispute in relation to the quantum of the assessment.

The traffic engineer on behalf of Nightingale relies on a so called ‘Survey Monkey’ administered electronically to owners and occupiers of The Commons. No face to face interviews were conducted, nor actual observed or closed circuit TV evidence was collected.

This survey attracted respondents from only 13 responses, 52% of residents and 54% of apartments. Two ownerships, representing three occupants, admitted to private ownership of motor cars which are parked, when not in use, in unrestricted on street parking in Orient Grove in the Neighbourhood Residential Zone located on the eastern side of the railway. Not, I would have thought, an ideal arrangement, nor one that should be aggravated by repeated permissions for multiple dwelling developments on this scale with no on site parking at all being required.

It included a question as to whether a currently owned car might be disposed of in the next two years. On that basis it is said that car ownership in The Commons can be expected to decrease.

I see no justification for this hopeful speculation. It was pointed out, on behalf of Chaucer, that a car disposed of might be immediately replaced. In any event, there is quite a possibility that further cars might be acquired. Almost 50% did not respond to the Survey Monkey. It does not strike me as reliable to suppose that the non respondents have the same proportion of cars as the respondents. Elsewhere it was suggested that the pressure of peer public opinion is likely to repress a desire for private car ownership. It is just as likely to repress a willingness to respond to the survey by those who might, perhaps guiltily, currently own a motor car.

The assessment of The Commons on behalf of Chaucer was carried out by actual physical observation and by checking closed circuit television recordings. This resulted in assessment of seven to nine which, when applied in relation to Nightingale, was reduced to 5 to 7. That compares with a suggested 3 to 5 on behalf of Nightingale. I regard the Chaucer method of survey and assessment as more reliable, and I prefer it to the Survey Monkey. That is, quite apart from the partial corroboration claimed in relation to the Chaucer survey attributed to the so called ‘Monash Study’ being an academic paper by Chris De Gruyter and others based on observed surveys which included The Commons.


Various other sources of car availability not involving private car ownership were referred to. Taxis are, of course, well known and a more recent service has arisen under Uber arrangements. There can also be so called ‘peer to peer car hire’ and ‘car next door’. Such various arrangements offer degrees of convenience, although not as convenient as private car ownership. They will normally be considerably more economical than private ownership. However, unlike public transport, they do not necessarily represent a reduction in car usage or the various emissions involved in car usage that give rise to environmental concern. Perhaps, as they are less convenient than private ownership, reliance on them may mean a reduction in car use overall. Of course, a reduction in demand for actual vehicles would represent a reduction in the resources required to manufacture them and, perhaps, to import them.

Nevertheless, when all is said and done, no such arrangements, whether by means of alternative cars or public transport, are as convenient as private car ownership. Of course some citizens are unwilling or unable to walk or cycle at all or for considerable distances. Even a handy GoGet spot is not as convenient as having one’s own car on hand to use at any time and for any purpose. A more distant shared car pickup is obviously less convenient and more distant cars again might be necessary if the nearer ones are already booked when required. Some planning ahead is required for making bookings rather than being able to use one’s own car whenever desired. The movement of heavy or awkward loads may also be facilitated by private car, even the movement of heavy cases, books, files or shopping. The proximity of public transport can be a great convenience and saving, particularly if it can lead to frequently visited destinations. Even people who retain a car, or even two, may use them much less if they can get to work or make other common trips by tram, train or bus. However, even if the origin of a journey is proximate to public transport, that does not mean that the destination is likewise conveniently placed. Most post World War II suburbs were developed on the basis that people would have private cars so that many locations are poorly served, even barely served by public transport. The advent of children or changed relationships or altered workplaces can all reduce the convenience of such means of transport.


This Nightingale proposal is brought forward by the same developer and architects as for The Commons. It is said by the traffic engineer called to give evidence on behalf of Nightingale that it:

…is a further evolution and refinement of the prototype project The Commons.

It was claimed that the aim of the developer, in relation to The Commons, was 10% car ownership whilst that for Nightingale is zero percent. With 24 dwellings at The Commons 10% is between 2 and 3 although, as can be seen, the assessment of actual ownership, even on behalf of Nightingale, is higher than that. In spite of this 10% aim no parking provision was ever intended for The Commons.

Does this difference of ‘aim’ amount to more than a hope or wishful speculation? The two projects are essentially similar. Nightingale is for 20 dwellings rather than 24 with a majority being single bedroom whereas the majority in The Commons have two bedrooms.

The only other difference pointed to is the suggestion that The Commons units were sold on the open market whereas the developer intends to vet applicants for Nightingale dwellings with a view to obtaining, at least for the first generation of owners, people with values sympathetic to the green ‘ethos’ of the proposal. I should have thought the features of both would have a rather similar appeal in market terms. The method of marketing and proportion of single to double bedroom apartments, being the characteristics said to mark the alternative zero car ownership aim compared with the 10% aim for The Commons do not strike me as significant or persuasive. I do not give weight to the alleged aim of 0% ownership for Nightingale, nor do I think it more likely of achievement than has proved to be the case in relation to The Commons. The traffic engineer also says that the residents of these projects are likely to share a ‘sustainable vision’ and that, accordingly, it could be reasonably expected that most, if not all, future occupants will not own a car.

I think that, in all the circumstances, it is reasonable to expect that some, though not most, future occupants will own a car which, if no on site.parking is provided, will be parked in the streets.


The question was posed, on behalf of Nightingale, that if zero parking provision is not be accepted here, then where can it be accepted?

I take that to be intended to be a rhetorical question. It assumes that zero provision of parking will be acceptable in some places. That does not necessarily follow from the planning scheme provisions like clause 52.06. The question assumes there may be suitable places, not necessarily that there will be such circumstances.

However, I readily accept that there are circumstances in which zero on site parking can be accepted. I have granted permits on that basis on a number of occasions, and so have other members of the Tribunal. Speaking for myself, I cannot recall doing so in relation to a multi unit development to contain 20 dwellings in a context where other residential developments of a similar scale exist, have been applied for, are being developed and will be developed in accordance with important planning policies pointing to such development in the locality. On the contrary, the examples I can recall are for much smaller numbers of dwellings such as three or four, and in circumstances where the site cannot provide parking or where circumstances render that undesirable sufficiently to outweigh the disadvantage of there being no parking. Some allotments may be too small or such that the provision of parking might be prohibitively expensive. Also, it may be intended to retain existing buildings where that is desirable but where such retention prevents the provision of onsite parking. The retention of heritage buildings is an example, although I do not mean to limit possibilities to that category.

None of those circumstances, which in my view tend to support a zero parking proposition, apply to this Nightingale project.


I accept that there are households without privately owned motor cars and for whom private car parking spaces are irrelevant. A suburban locality with good access to public transport and to retail facilities and services is obviously a convenient place for such people to live. Such households may be increasing in absolute numbers and as a percentage of households generally. Of course such localities have convenience advantages for all households and are conducive to less private car usage, even for those who own cars. A household may retain one car rather than two, and either event may use such cars much less than if the dwelling was in another locality. Others may have a car and relinquish it or have no car and acquire one. Others again might never have a car, or even a license to drive one. Such people may well prefer a dwelling with no car parking space.

I accept that there are such households and a place in the market for the provision of dwellings to suit them, particularly if the purchase price or rent may be less on account of there being no parking. However, I also consider that these needs can be met by dwellings where parking is not or cannot be provided, or by development like those considered in this case where there can be a substantial reduction in parking provision, and where many dwellings will not have space for private parking, though some provision may be made for those who do retain or acquire a car.


It was suggested that I might make an interim determination in this case providing an opportunity for a revised proposal to be brought forward. So far as Nightingale is concerned that suggestion was that a space for a FlexiCar might be provided at ground floor with access from the back lane, notwithstanding that such arrangements are not favoured by the promoters of such schemes. I do not regard that as meeting my concerns in relation to this case.

Beyond that, I think the provision of a contribution to the parking demand that I find would be generated would require a revision and redesign of the proposal which I consider that I should not embark upon.


Accordingly I consider that the objection of Chaucer should be sustained, that the decision of the responsible authority to grant a permit should be set aside and that no permit should be granted.

Further Info:

Is Urbanism the New Trickle-Down Economics?
Failure to Communicate: Beyond Starbucks Urbanism

Open Democracy
The resilience of neoliberal urbanism

Beyond Moses and Jacobs

The Daily Beast
Richard Florida Concedes the Limits of the Creative Class

Opportunity Urbanism

Reinventing Parking (must read)
We need clearer thinking on key parking policy alternatives. Here is help

The High Cost of Residential Parking
How Parking Spaces Are Eating Our Cities Alive
How Outdated Parking Laws Price Families Out of the City
Seattle to Buildings: Give Tenants Transit Passes, Not Parking Spots
Is Boston Ready for an Apartment Building That Bars Cars?

Sightline Institute
> How is parking like a sandwich?

Report Details How Onerous NYC’s Regressive Parking Minimums Really Are

Donald Shoup

There’s No Such Thing as Free Parking
> Free parking isn't free

Why free parking is bad for everyone

> U.S. Parking Policies: An Overview of Management Strategies (pdf)

Institute for Sensible Transport
The High Cost of Free Parking Seminar – with Professor Donald Shoup

The Urbanist
> Let's give away our parking

Market Urbanism
The High Cost of Free Parking Chapters 1-4
The High Cost of Free Parking Chapters 5-9

Think Progress - Yglesias
> Minimum Parking

Parking Is Hell: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Reinventing Urban Transport
Parking slots are like toilets (according to conventional parking planning)

Transport Blog NZ
> Posts tagged with "parking minimums"

Andrew Alexander Price
> My car pays cheaper rent than me