Readers Say

‘Prioritize people, not cars’: Readers want to expand housing, not parking

"Do some people need cars? Sure. But everyone needs housing."

An aerial view of Kendall Square area in Cambridge. (David L Ryan/Globe Staff)

City officials in Cambridge want to focus on expanding housing options instead of parking, and Boston.com readers think that’s the right call for a city with a growing population and a finite amount of space. 

A new proposal from the City Council would end minimum parking requirements for new residential developments, according to a Boston Globe report, giving developers a chance to decide if parking is necessary. We asked readers if they think less parking in favor of more housing is a fair trade-off, and a slight majority, or 53% of readers, said housing should be prioritized over parking in Cambridge and other cities. 

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In 2014, Cambridge set a goal to decrease car ownership by 2020 by 15 percent from 1990 rates. Instead, the city saw an increase in the number of cars in the city by 6.5 percent, according to US Census data. Still, car ownership hasn’t kept pace with population growth, showing the difficulty of the situation. Cambridge is attracting more people than it can affordably house, but many of those people come with cars.

For Robbie from Jamaica Plain, and many other readers, if the question is whether cities should prioritize people over cars, the answer is simple: “Anyone prioritizing cars over a roof over people’s heads should take a long, hard look in the mirror,” he said. 

Do you think proposals to have less parking, but more housing are a good trade-off?
Yes
54%
247
No
46%
213

Steven Cohen, a member of Cambridge’s Planning Board said at a recent meeting that people are impacted by lack of parking as well. The goal of this proposed policy is to lower rents by cutting costs for developers to build new housing, but Cohen warns that an influx of residents will further limit the number of parking spaces. 

“Real people, they’re going to be compromised by this,” he said. “Real people need vehicles.”

Burhan Azeem, the city councilor who proposed the policy told the Globe that the city needs to think more carefully about land use.  

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“We are a city with a very finite amount of space, and land is our most valuable asset. An obscene amount of that land is dedicated to parking, and that means that it’s harder and more expensive to build housing.”

Some readers argue that the right solution can’t focus on one at the expense of the other. 

“Allowing developers to provide insufficient amenities such as parking is a giveaway to developers. Posing the question as parking vs. housing is a red herring. Developers should provide both, otherwise, the city will be overrun with cars cruising around looking for on-street parking (which is also being reduced due to bike lanes). If cost is an issue then the government should step in and provide funding to make sure that housing is built to good standards,” said Karen C. from Cambridge.

Readers on both sides of this issue believe that cities should be doing more to make it easier for residents to live and move around their communities. Below you’ll find a sampling of responses from readers on how they think Cambridge and neighboring towns should make that happen. 

Some entries may be edited for length and clarity.

Do you think proposals to have less parking, but more housing are a good trade-off?

More housing

“Yes! And they should [incentivize] affordable housing development in particular. Waive fees for permits and other costly requirements for building if the developer is willing to build 80% affordable units. However, reliable and fast public transit needs to continue to be addressed. If you build housing to the detriment of parking, the transit system must support [residents] getting to jobs. It must be robust, efficient, and more convenient than having a car.” — Nicole S., Quincy

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“Prioritize housing, please! We need way more housing in Cambridge and should do everything we can to make sure it gets built. Do some people need cars? Sure. But everyone needs housing. The average rent for a 1-bedroom is north of $3k, and that won’t change unless we increase supply. Real people take the T, dude.” — Laurie, Cambridge

“Yes, absolutely. A city with fewer cars is safer for families and children. This proposal allows space to be used for living instead of storing vehicles that sit unused 90% of the time.” — Jeff, Cambridge

“Building housing should be the clear priority. Boston has great public transit options but skyrocketing housing prices, pricing out current and new residents. There are alternatives to driving a car but not to having a home.” — Alex, Cambridge

“Cities like Cambridge and Boston (and Brookline, Somerville, etc.) have plenty of transit options other than cars, as well as jobs and schools within walking distance of potential new homes. Parking absolutely shouldn’t be required within 0.5 miles of the T, near Bluebike stations, or near bus stops because in such areas, residents don’t need cars to get around.” — Dina, Brookline

“Yes! The more dense housing is built, the less the need for cars will be. This has worked out in nearly every European city that has deemphasized cars and should happen here too. Prioritize people, not cars.” — Andrew W., South Boston

“Plenty of people don’t have cars or can do without them. People cannot do without housing. Shaping a city with fewer cars is good for the environment. Safer. Less congested. Cities like New York have far less parking and are much more vibrant economies than Boston. Nothing wrong with cars but the idea that they are prioritized over people and living is insane.” — Michael K., Jamaica Plain

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“More housing! Cambridge Planning Board member says, ‘Real people need cars,’ but…real people do need housing, which is increasingly hard to find and afford. City laws shouldn’t raise housing costs by mandating minimum parking (or closets or pantries) for everyone.” — James Z., Cambridge

More parking

“With the ever-increasing number of well-paid professionals, come cars. Parking for commuters should be the responsibility of developers of business and research buildings. Parking for rental and condo residents should be the responsibility of those developers. With the emphasis on new bike lanes and designated bus lanes, the number of street spaces is already shrinking. Do not bring more cars without spaces to Cambridge.” — Aleta C., Cambridge

“They are fighting a war on cars. Constantly making it more difficult to use your car. We see it. They just want to control us even more by trying to funnel people into that expensive disaster known as the T.” — Wayne N., Quincy

“Cambridge has eliminated almost all parking on Mass Ave. and it has impacted businesses, residents, and the elderly in a negative way. This has also caused long lines of traffic. They aren’t just building 10 units, they are building 300 and 400 units at a time. Not everyone is going to be using public transportation.” — Kathy D., Cambridge

“I feel we should have more parking and less housing. We already have tons of buildings going up and they’ve already taken away a lot of parking spots for the bike lanes that are all over the city of Cambridge. I’m very frustrated driving around the block in circles looking for parking spots. It is absolutely ridiculous. So I am against making more houses without parking spots. We need more parking spots!” — Paris, Cambridge

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“Most people still need cars, even if they live in the city of Boston or Cambridge. New England is a small geographic area and all points are only a few hours drive from Boston. Eliminating parking would ultimately drive those with cars out of the city and leave only mid to low-income residents. Not good for so many reasons. Not least of which is tax income for both cities.” — Paul J., Randolph

“More housing means more people, means more vehicles. Until there is a good alternative to personal vehicles in Boston, these initiatives to get rid of the car don’t make any sense and people will continue to buy, use, and park cars. The T is not reliable and the service is so slow (for example, it takes me at least 45 minutes to take a bus and subway to my office, which is 5 miles from my home). Biking is just not a viable option for many people because of age or physical limitations, or because of the type of job they have. In addition, has anyone tried biking around Boston in February? Between the low temperatures, wind, ice, and snow in the winter, biking 12 months a year is not going to happen!” — Christina R., Somerville

Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinions.