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Metro Cities: Mexico City's one-word fix for congestion

By changing one word in the city's parking policies, the largest city in North America has enacted one of the most progressive city-building tactics seen on the continent.

Only one-third of Mexico City’s residents own cars, but in a city of 8.8 million people, that can add up to a lot of air pollution. The city has been under some of its worst smog alerts in decades this summer.

iStockphoto / iStockphoto

Only one-third of Mexico City’s residents own cars, but in a city of 8.8 million people, that can add up to a lot of air pollution. The city has been under some of its worst smog alerts in decades this summer.

Earlier this month, Mexico City mayor Miguel Mancera led his city’s charge to change the rules for parking spaces and as a result flipped the script on how North America’s largest city will grow. Where developers were once required to include a minimum amount of parking, there is now a maximum in place. Go over your allowed number of spaces and you pay a fee to fund urban living.

MINIMUM: The old rules required developers to include one parking spot per 30 square metres of office space and similar rules for condos and shopping centres. This in a city where less than a third of residents own cars and there is a large subway system. A 2014 report showed parking was the fastest-growing land use in Mexico City.

MAXIMUM: Under the new rules, if a development in Mexico City’s downtown core goes more than 50 per cent above a maximum amount of parking spaces, the company must pay a fee. That money will be used to fund public transit and housing.

MINIMUM: Parking minimums flourished in the car-crazy days of the mid-20th century. New buildings were required to include parking to keep street spaces clear. As a result, parking was almost guaranteed at home and at a person’s destination, making it the most reliable option.

MAXIMUM: The change in Mexico City will hopefully translate to a reduction in traffic, which would help ease air pollution in the notoriously smoggy city. And the new rules in Mexico City do require parking for one type of vehicle: bikes.

MINIMUM: Edmonton had some of the highest parking minimums in the country, with two spaces required per single-family home, for example. But last summer city council voted to cut parking minimums in half for many housing types and launch a review of all parking laws (like the one requiring churches provide a certain number of spots based on number of pews). Ottawa has made similar moves.

MAXIMUM: Reducing the requirements for building parking also eases the burden on affordable housing providers, who used to be forced to build out infrastructure that is not inherently needed for a home.

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