We can have car-free development in the US… almost. With the exception of developments in Manhattan, almost every single development in the US would require some sort of parking arrangement to be successful, even when designing the best places for pedestrians. Whether that parking is in the form of street parking or garage parking with ground-level commercial/office uses it does not necessarily matter, as long as there is enough for the residents, tourists, or shoppers. For pedestrian-friendly developments, surface parking lots between the streets and the buildings or main features of the development are not an option.
One of my favorite weblogs, CoolTown Studios, had an interesting article today about a development in China that appears to be car-free and very cool. While I cannot verify by the picture in the article that there is no parking near the development, I do believe that this type of development can be done in the US by satisfying this main criteria (in a simplistic state):
1) First and foremost, you have to have an aesthetically pleasing design that is also walkable. This is the number one reason developments (or anything for that matter) are unsuccessful. You have to take in account what type of people you are looking to attract, and what design will attract them.
2) There has to be parking very close to the site using the general guidelines stated above. You cannot have successful developments without people using them. And you cannot have people without a source of transportation unless they walk there. So in most cases, this means cars. Bikes and public transit work as well, but most people own a car and will use it to get to places. Unless, of course they live on site, which leads into this:
3) If the site is to be lively and usable at all times of each day, there needs to be housing on the site, or very nearby. And these housing units need to provide parking for a majority of the residents. There also needs to be a significant number of units with the appropriate ratio and variety of commercial/office space to match these units. Businesses and places thrive off of people, but there needs to be a reason for people to come there as well. For night activities, adequate pedestrian scale lighting is essential
There are many more key factors in quality development that is relatively car-free. But cars are not necessarily a bad thing for developments because they bring people. What planners and developers need to do is bring both cars and people into harmony. No place is successful without people. People in the US have cars and want to use them because they are convenient. To have successful development, we need to accommodate as many modes of transportation as possible without killing the sense of place.
Perhaps the best example of this type of design in the US that was recently constructed is Santana Row in San Jose, California (pictured above). I also have a photo gallery from my visit there last fall. There are parking garages located behind some of the buildings, and also some of the residential units have garages that empty onto an alley behind the buildings.