Friday, February 6, 2009

Wasting space

One of the most grating aspects on the public debate in some cities is their focus on parking. Many public hearings on new developments on city downtowns revolve around where people are going to park their cars above all else.

There is a reason some buildings are placed in downtown areas, close to transit hubs and within a walking distance of housing and other businesses: we don't want people to drive there. Some people, maybe, but the whole idea of placing a college, office building or housing close to a train station is to let people avoid the highway.

Besides that, parking lots are a lousy way to use space in a city. For starters, a garage or surface does absolutely nothing to the street around it; the foot traffic around it is basically going there to go somewhere else, without lingering. Walking past a lot is a pretty pointless exercise; in terms of street life (retail, small businesses, etc) is a place where the grass doesn't grow. When surface lots are in front of a business or a store, it makes that street aggressively ugly for the pedestrians walking past it; try to do some shopping in a strip mall (the Post Road in Orange or Universal Drive in North Haven) on foot to get a feel about it.

Storefronts, businesses, housing that is far from the sidewalk makes the street in front much less welcoming. You don't walk there; you are far from where you want to go, to the places that have life and activity. Sometimes something as simple as having the lots on the back makes a streetscape completely different; cars need to be hidden to make walking -and the life and energy that it brings- something that we see in our towns.

It is important to think about zoning and parking regulations on these terms: first, do we want that many people to drive there? second, how we hide the cars so the streets remain pedestrian friendly?

1 comment:

  1. Land value taxation -- reducing or eliminating the part of the property tax which falls on the improvements on land, and increasing the millage rate on the value of the land (exclusive of improvements), is a fine way to nudge most of those who own the parking lots to think about putting those lots to better use. One will become a multi-level parking garage (or do what some NYC parking lots do, and bring in the two-level parking equipment), and the others will be developed into other purposes.

    Encouraging those businesses which need their own parking lost to place them behind the business rather than between the retailer and the street will help their foot traffic and give a better appearance.

    You might look for Donald Shoup's chapter on parking.

    And land value taxation will help create the density that makes frequent service on public transportation realistic. These things work together to make nicer and more compact cities, which has all sorts of benefits.