Boston’s housing future? Compact living spaces, no parking

A man checked his phone after parking on Columbus Avenue in Boston.
A man checked his phone after parking on Columbus Avenue in Boston.JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF/file 2015

If you think parking in Boston is scarce now, just wait a decade or two — when it all but disappears.

That’s the feeling, anyway, of Kent Larson, director of the City Science Initiative and the Changing Places group at the MIT Media Lab.

“We won’t have parking for cars in 15 years in the city,” Larson said Friday, during an afternoon HUBweek panel titled “Housing the Workforce: Typology, Technology, and Techtonics,” which focused on the future of housing in the Boston area.

During the hourlong panel, and in an interview immediately afterward, Larson maintained that the days of significant public parking are probably numbered. Bike-sharing businesses have made us realize that we don’t need bikes, while ride-sharing apps have made us realize we don’t need cars. And soon, he anticipates, many will come to what he considers the reasonable conclusion that they can simply make do without one.


He pointed to cities in Europe — Oslo, Amsterdam, Helsinki — as examples of places where this process has already begun.

“It all depends on the leadership of the city — whether they want to wait for it to happen naturally or push it along through policy,” Larson said about Boston’s future. “[But] I think it’ll start to vanish.”

It was one of the various topics dissected during the session, which ranged from the benefits of compact living, to how to best use the city’s limited space, to the inherent challenges in implementing solutions.

Panelists showcased some of their recent work — which included compact living spaces and stackable modular units — and discussed the innovative measures being taken to tackle one of the city’s most glaring issues.

A good chunk of the conversation, however, centered on the current constraints. Asked about the biggest barriers to implementing more housing in the Boston area, multiple panel members pointed to zoning regulations and project-approval pitfalls that currently exist today.


It’s difficult “to always be starting from a position of weakness,” said Tamara Roy, a principal at the architecture firm Stantec and past president of the Boston Society of Architects, “where you’re just begging for the neighborhood to please accept a few more units and a few less parking places.”

Panelists spoke, too, of the need to think beyond Boston’s city limits when addressing future housing measures.

“The housing crisis does not stop at the line where Boston ends,” said Marcy Ostberg, director of Boston’s Housing Innovation Lab. “It’s definitely a regional problem, and that’s why we need to be working together.”

HUBweek, an innovation-themed festival founded by Harvard, MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, and The Boston Globe, is now in its third year.

Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.