Micro Units and the City of the Future

The Austin City Council recently debated revisions to the development ordinance to allow micro units.  A key point in the discussion is the parking requirement.  Under current code micro units are allowed though they would fall under the category of an 'efficiency apartment' and be required to have one parking space per unit.  The discussion centered around removing this parking requirement altogether along Core Transit Corridors and within Transit Oriented Developments. 

In that scenario, the concern is that if parking isn't provided folks who rent there are still likely to own cars and park in surrounding neighborhoods, which creates it's own, different set of problems.

Chris Riley stated some important considerations regarding micro unit developments as they relate to affordability, parking, and traffic, none of which, in my opinion, improve when micro units are required to have parking. 

In regards to the affordability issue,  the cost of providing structured parking adds to the cost of the housing.  How do we create more affordable housing and keep traffic at bay when we repeat the models of the past?  Beyond the cost of the parking structure, the land area required for parking has a double impact on the cost.  First, the land area required for parking is significant and likewise it's cost, and secondly, the lost opportunity of land given over to parking which could be given to providing more residential units per given site.

The parking and traffic issues, likewise, are not alleviated if the parking requirement is maintained.  It's just more people running around in their cars as more housing is built and traffic levels increase on our streets like a coronary condition leading to massive heart failure.

With the rejection of the rail bond there might be concern that we would not have the transit options to support unparked micro units.  An effective rail plan won't be realized, in my opinion, until two things happen.  First they put major portions of it underground (learning from the experience of the Waller Creek dig), where it won't conflict with existing, severely constrained, surface traffic, and secondly ask major employers/businesses (who benefit from an array of tax breaks) to provide some support so it's not all on the back of the tax-paying homeowner.  But I digress.

So the micro unit really only benefits this city, and the future of this city if it is decoupled from the parking requirement.  It is located around the TOD's, and guess what?  That supports the density and synergy that the TOD's need to become effective places to live work and play.  Also, the micro unit is for a certain type of person.  That person, a some what rare breed, and someone I'd probably admire, does not own a car.  So how does he/she get around?  We'll it may be a bit of a generational thing as they tend to rely on hand held devices more than the boomers.  Let's consider a future of micro units without parking but with integrated car-sharing services such as Car2Go, Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar.  Let's envision micro units located within walking distance of grocery stores and restaurants and places of employment provided with B-Cycle stations and centered around transit stops.

Let's envision it and consider the range of benefits including affordability, mitigated traffic, and more walkable communities.  Who knows, perhaps one day folks will say, "I'm moving to Austin, you don't need to own a car there."

Jay Bolsega




Remodeling and Home Design
Austin Architects & Designers