Imagine a world without cars. Imagine Calgary without cars. Many futurist say it will eventually happen. One of the first steps will be to experiment with condo towers in strategic urban locations with no parking for residents.
Joe Starkman, CEO of Calgary’s Knightsbridge Homes is prepared to be a pioneer with his proposed 15-storey condo project, N3 in East Village that would have 167 units and no parking. While some Councilors and planners are questioning the parking relaxation (current regulations would require 101 parking stalls, 84 for residents and 17 for visitors) that would be required to approve N3. I say “no residents’ parking, no problem.”
I originally thought the developer should provide the required visitor parking, however with a bit of digging I found out there are 1658 existing public parking stalls within 300 metres of N3, and Calgary Parking Authority has plans to build a new 630 stall parkade. I also found out that to add even one level of parking would add $70K per unit, as the high water table would require expensive "raft construction."
After reviewing Bunt & Associates' "N3 East Village Zero Parking Feasibility Study," I say "no visitors' parking, no problem." The study clearly stated that after a comprehensive review of best practices and experiences with no or limited parking in cities across North America, N3 could be successful without any parking given the excellent access by transit, cycling and walking to key amenities, as well as easy access to 1,000s of public parking spots when needed.
I would also like to note that the City should not approve any reserved street parking for residents of this or any condos in East Village. In fact, all street parking should be public parking, either metered or a 2 to 4 hour limit depending on the time of day and day of the week.
Who would live in a condo with no parking?
All of the N3 units are small - 460 to 620 square feet - meaning the primary market for these homes is singles, be that young, middle-aged or seniors. More specifically, the market is for urbanites who don’t want or need to have a car. A $200,000 home in downtown Calgary would be very attractive to the young geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers (GABEsters) who populate the office towers just blocks away.
I also think N3 would be attractive to empty nesters who are travelling a lot and newly widowed seniors. My mother moved to downtown Hamilton and gave up her car after my Dad passed away (not that she needed to but because she wanted to) so she could walk to the library, market and church. She has never been happier.
Back story, a recent CBC report from Hamilton indicated that city has a potential crisis in the making with seniors who are trapped in the suburbs without a car. My Mom was smart to get out while she can. Learn more: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/why-a-revitalized-downtown-is-what-hipsters-want-and-seniors-need-1.2843931
I think corporate Calgary would purchase a few units for out-of-town consultants and board members when in town on business. Maybe even some local executives who live in the ‘burbs or on acreages might purchase a unit to have a place to stay after a long day at the office, an early morning meeting, Flames game, concert, theatre or bad weather.
I am also betting there are individuals in Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge who might want to have a “pied-a-terre” allowing them to be part of downtown Calgary’s growing culture – National Music Centre, High Performance Rodeo, Folk Festival, Stampede etc.
East Village is perfect!
Calgary Parking Authority has plans for a new parkade on 9th Avenue across from the Salvation Army just a few blocks away where residents and visitors will be able to find parking when needed. The fact people will have to park and walk a few blocks is great as it will animate the sidewalks and add more eyes to the street adding to improved public safety.
East Village is the perfect place for Calgary to experiment with a "no parking" condo as all of the City’s amenities are within walking distance – walking and cycling pathways, parks, museums, art galleries, library, theatres and LRT. There will be lots of cafes, pubs, lounges, restaurants, patios and even a grocery store only a block or two away. It will be a shoppers’ paradise as you can easily walk to Inglewood, The Bay, The Core, Kensington, Design District and 17th Avenue or catch the train to Chinook.
Building a condo with no parking works in East Village, and would also work in some places in Beltline, Hillhurst Sunnyside and perhaps in few other locations where the proximity to public parking, transit and amenities allow for a "no car" livestyle.
No Car / No Problem
With Car2go there is less and less of a reason to own a car if you live in Calgary’s greater downtown neighbourhoods. Why own a car that sits idle 95% of the time and costs $10,000 a year to own and operate when you can use Car2go for a few dollars for most of your trips?
There are also taxis and car rentals for other trips on an as-need basis. There are advantages to taking a taxis to certain places (e.g. hospitals) as you save on the parking costs or to renting a car as you can rent what you need when you want (e.g. four wheel drive for that skiing trip to the mountains or a SUV for the golf trip to Montana).
Sure, the market for small condos with no parking stall is limited, but in a city with over 450,000 homes, I am sure there are 167 individuals who would love to save $70K (cost of an individual underground parking stall if developer required to supply all of the required parking) on the purchase of their home and probably another $5,000 a year in transportation costs.
I would hope that anyone buying in N3 would realize that the future resale of their home would be to a narrow market, even though there is plenty of research documenting the “no car” market is growing in North America. I expect Calgary's "no car" lifestyle market will grow significantly as our city becomes more urbanized.
Knightsbridge Homes is no newbie when it comes to pioneering innovative new condo designs and developments. It is same team that created the vision for University City at the Brentwood LRT station that is currently transforming a sea of surface parking spaces into a transit-oriented condo village. I expect they have learned a lot from that project and are applying it to N3.
I chatted with Starkman about that project awhile back and he share with me his thoughts about the next generation of condo dwellers, a group he called the “laptop” generation. His observation is that many young adults are not interested in condos with big kitchens as most don't cook and most often dine on “take-out or take-away” while playing video games, shopping online, watching TV shows or movies on their laptops. on their laps. As Bob Dylan sang, “For the times they are a-changin’.”
The times are "a-changin" also when it comes to Americans' love affair with cars. Since the turn of the century young Americans have been driving less, don't believe me read this report: http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usp/transportation-and-new-generation
Like all good developers and entrepreneurs, Starkman is always looking for emerging markets and trying to stay ahead of the curve. What I also like about the N3 proposal is that it will diversify the demographics of East Village. And in my opinion, diversity is more important than density in creating urban vitality.
I hope the City won’t require the developer to do more research or commission another study thus resulting in paralysis by analysis. Sometimes you just have to trust your intuition.
Wonder where the name N3 comes from? It official stands for New Attitude, New Vision, New Lifestyle - clever eh! But I am thinking it stands for No parking, No cars, No problem.
By Richard White, January 9, 2014
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