Should the Housing of the Future Be Car-Free?

Sarah Rock

Dr Sarah Rock is a lecturer in transport and urban design in TU Dublin. She is programme director of the MSc in Urban Regeneration and Development, a course due to be relaunched in January 2020.


Suburban Dublin is due to get nearly 300 new apartments after the recent approval by An Bord Pleanála of a development in Temple Hill in Blackrock.

The “location location location” mantra certainly applies here. The site overlooks a park. It’s a few hundred metres from the heart of Blackrock village and all the shops, cafes, and amenities it has to offer – including the DART, several buses and some decent cycle lanes.

This medium-high-density development, ranging from two to eight storeys, will mean moving a protected structure, so builders can widen the route for traffic to get in and out, as well as basements and service roads to cater for future residents’ cars.

This scheme proposes slightly under one car-space per apartment and in doing so goes against Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s own parking standards, which generally seek higher rates.

For the last few decades, local authorities, with some exceptions mainly within Dublin city, have set minimum levels of car parking for apartment blocks, usually between one and two spaces per home. On the face of it, this might sound sensible. But the research tells us otherwise.

We now know that car-borne transport is having a detrimental impact on our environment and community cohesion, and that high parking provision is a driver of car use. We know that increasing residential densities can increase traffic congestion unless car ownership is constrained and on-street car parking is controlled. Continuing to cater for the demands of vehicular traffic tends to be at the expense of walking, cycling and public transport.

Whilst a protected structure is being pulled apart, moved and rebuilt to make way for traffic, only minimal improvements are proposed to pedestrian crossings. As plans stand, it will still take a pedestrian up to six minutes to cross at the traffic lights on Temple Road on their way to the village or DART station, thus doubling the journey time on foot.

Buying a car often comes with expectations of unconstrained use and access to just about everywhere. After all, you’ve already paid a hefty chunk of your income on it, then been landed with tax and insurance costs, too.

According to the Automobile Association, the average car costs a staggering €10,691 a year to run and maintain. You might also have a parking space in the basement that the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland estimates could add up to €36,000 to the cost of your apartment. So the least you should be able to do is use it, right?

But what if you didn’t feel the need to own a car in the first place, especially in well-serviced locations? What if rather than 100 expensive car-spaces and all the associated infrastructure, there was a hand-full of car-share spaces for those times when you really needed to drive somewhere?

According to the Transport Research Board, each car-sharing vehicle has the potential to replace almost 15 private cars. Imagine how the use of our urban space could be transformed for the better, never mind the savings to your pocket.

What if parks and greenery and streets that children could play safely on surrounded your apartment block instead of a sea of black tarmac? What if we shifted future investment only into walking, cycling and high-quality public transport so that we no longer needed to run and maintain expensive, polluting and space-hungry cars?

The government is making nods in this direction and beginning to recognise through the publication of its National Planning Framework that providing endless car parking might not be the wisest path for the future. This proposed development in Blackrock might also be making the same gestures by slightly reducing car-parking levels from what current standards require, but considering it is likely to be about five to 10 years before the first residents move in, will the residents of the future really want to run and maintain their own cars?

The international trends of car use and ownership are telling us that the answer is no. Fewer young people are driving, or even learning to drive, especially in urban areas. Research commissioned by the UK Department of Transport shows us the 17- to 29-year-olds of today are substantially less likely to drive than their parents.

It’s not all down to affordability. Young peoples’ values are changing and they are not as interested in driving as earlier generations. And it’s not just the UK – these trends are international.

Our relationship with the car is changing, and changing fast – a fact not lost on global car giants such as BMW and Daimler AG as they shift their investments towards car sharing.

Parking standards and practices in many local authorities are out of step with current trends in transport and urban densification, are adding unnecessary costs to housing and living expenses and are likely to result in more car use. Maybe it’s time to question the status quo if we are serious about climate change and liveable cities.

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Sarah Rock: Dr Sarah Rock is a lecturer in transport and urban design in TU Dublin. She is programme director of the MSc in Urban Regeneration and Development, a course due to be relaunched in January 2020.

Reader responses

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Laura Farrell
at 19 July at 00:49

Blackrock is a special case: unlike most areas, where apartment dwellers without parking spaces simply park in front of someone elses home with impunity, in Blackrock there is aggressive parking controls and costly daily charges (if you can find a space - generally about 6-8 euro per day) so meeting the minimum numbers probably makes future disputes a little less unlikely. That said, its also a good 15-20 minutes walk to the DART (but closer to the bus routes). Guessing that most of these will be rented out anyway so likely that the owners may consider renting the parking spaces separately.

Peter FitzGerald
at 7 August at 15:17

Thanks! Very interesting article. "What if parks and greenery and streets that children could play safely on surrounded your apartment block instead of a sea of black tarmac? What if we shifted future investment only into walking, cycling and high-quality public transport so that we no longer needed to run and maintain expensive, polluting and space-hungry cars?" Amen to that. We really need planners and developers to start with that mindset. It's the future, if we're to have one.

Mark Cunningham
at 27 August at 06:46

Sound logic and strong argument. It has always amazed me that no 'enterprising developers' have considered developments with NO carparking but (instead) access to local amenities and public transport. It would be really interesting to measure the emand for such homes. I reckon it would be really strong and could act as a beacon for the future.

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