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Alyse Nelson's Posts


When your parking grows up: What curb spaces can become

This is part 6 of a Sightline series on parking requirements. Read parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, and 5.

In 2007, I saw this in a residential neighborhood near central Copenhagen:

Alyse Nelson

A rack for 10 bicycles had grown where an on-street car parking space had been. In Copenhagen, where 50 percent of residents commute by bike, on-street bicycle parking was a sensible idea -- fit 10 bikes where one car could go, thus freeing up the sidewalk from a cluster of parked cycles.

Fast-forward several years, and Copenhagen parking has grown up to bigger and pinker things:

Mikael Colville-Andersen

This car-shaped storage unit provides secure, rainproof space for four cargo bicycles in a space equivalent to 1.5 vehicle parking spots.

On-street parking takes up a lot of space in North American cities: 5 to 8 percent of all urban land, according to UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup. If parking reforms -- like pricing on-street spaces -- reduce the need for curb parking in our cities, what will we do with all that extra space?

As it turns out, Northwestern cities are already trying out some exciting new ideas. In this article, we’ll look at four things parking can grow up to become: bike corrals, International PARK(ing) Day, parklets, and café seating.

In Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, this car-shaped bicycle rack creatively reminds people just how many cycles can fit in a space formerly used to park one car:

Alyse Nelson

Read more: Cities, Living


Ugly by law: Check out how parking requirements shape our cities

This is part 2 of a Sightline series on parking requirements. Read parts 1, 3, and 4.

Cars have shaped much of the North American West, where drive-through restaurants, shopping centers, highway strip malls, and single-family neighborhoods miles from commercial services dominate much of the urban and suburban landscape. Less obvious to the casual observer is the impact that parking regulations have had on architectural forms.

Cities have established parking regulations, often called off-street parking minimums, for each possible land use. When you build a new house or shop, or often when you simply remodel a building or change its use, you must provide a minimum number of off-street parking spaces. These regulations are meant to address demand for parking that cannot be met by nearby on-street spaces, but they have also led to increased development costs, less flexibility for adaptive reuse of existing buildings, and some pretty unattractive architecture.

This photo essay looks at some of the ugly architecture that has resulted from parking minimums. Many of the photos were sent in by Sightline readers who responded to our request for examples from their communities.

One obvious example is the ubiquitous seas of suburban parking. The commercial building pictured below is set so far back from the street, behind its legally required parking, that it’s hard to figure out what type of business operates there.

Derek Severson

In Western Oregon, a mixed-use developed community called Fairview Village (below) has a Target store as its retail anchor. Although the development has won awards for livability and smart planning, this sea of required parking looks pretty standard.

Read more: Cities


Living large in small houses

A Jay Shafer tiny home.
Nicholas Boullosa
A Jay Shafer tiny home.

My husband and I think we’ve found a way to pay off our mortgage early, without taking on an extra job or working nights. We’ve decided to construct a rental unit -- a “mother-in-law suite” -- within our home. If it pans out as we hope, the rental income will let us pay off our loan 10 years early. And who knows: It could give us a chance to live closer to family as we, or they, get on in years.

Jason and I are not alone; lots of folks across the country are experimenting with adding a second (or third) dwelling to an existing single-family home. And in perhaps the most interesting development, more and more people are choosing to buck the “bigger is better” trend in North American housing. They’re taking small spaces -- backyards, side lots, or freestanding garages -- and using them to build tiny houses.

Ranging from 800 square feet to less than 100 square feet -- a far cry from the 1,000 square feet per person that has become the North American norm -- these “doll houses” take many shapes and sizes. And the people who live in them are as diverse as the homes themselves. Some hope to save money on housing; others hope to “live green” by choosing a smaller space; some are trading living space for a neighborhood they love; and others want to live closer to family or friends.

Here are some of their stories.

Read more: Cities, Living


Your stroller wheels, on the bus

The author and her son, strolling happily -- just not onto the bus. (Photo by Alyse Nelson.)

Cross-posted from Sightline Daily.

I recall vividly how embarrassed I felt the first time I climbed on the bus with my baby boy. We’d waited expectantly -- he bundled up in his stroller and me imagining the bus driver welcoming us aboard, lowering the wheelchair lift so we could roll on in style. In the stores and sidewalks of my neighborhood, people made way for us, slowing so we could pass on a congested sidewalk or holding doors open while we rolled into a shop.

But when the bus arrived, instead of lowering the lift, the driver told me to fold Orion’s stroller. My cheeks burned red as I hastily unpacked -- diaper bag, toys, blanket, and groceries -- while holding onto my squirming bundle of joy. Then, with one hand, I attempted to fold the stroller and carry the load aboard, knowing that everyone was watching me, passengers cursing under their breaths and the driver reviewing his timetable.

Read more: Family, Transportation


Coloring inside the lanes: Art that creates community

Sunnyside Piazza.Photo: Daniel Etra Cross-posted from Sightline Daily. What if all it took to build better neighborhoods was a little paint? Walking in southeast Portland, I once stumbled on a horizontal rendition of a sunflower, painted curb to curb on the intersection of Southeast 33rd and Yamhill. Sunnyside Piazza, it is called, which may seem a bit much for a splash of color on asphalt, but in person, it seemed fitting. This whimsical design, interrupting the functional but monotonous gray of Portland's street grid, felt like a somewhere. It seemed like a place deserving a name. It even felt like a "piazza." …

Read more: Cities