Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parking Bombs

More! That's the scream of merchants and others who believe that a downtown without an endless sea of parking is not worth going to. But once the whole downtown turns into a parking lot it's not really worth much anymore is it? Yet we still see the discussion of parking dominate without an eye for the destruction that it can cause a downtown if left unfettered.

Before Portland's miraculous return as an urban Mecca, it too was once infested by parking. So was the city of Houston, where parking lots took over most of the downtown at one point.

Via Mike Lydon & Transit Miami (Via the book City Shaped)

Perhaps you can say how different this is from Rotterdam after German bombing...

It's unfortunate that we didn't see what we were doing to our wonderful cities in the name of cars first. Europe had war, yet we dismantled our cities in a similar way in the name of progress. So much parking though, what has that done to the city's value? What has it taken away in terms of tax revenue from land and greater employment agglomerations? A study by Anne Moudon and Dohn Wook Sohn showed that offices that were clustered had greater values than those that weren't in the Seattle region. In addition to the spending on highways that expanded our regions to their current far reaches, how much real estate value did we destoy?

Greater value for downtowns was lost and in the process we saw places like Hartford, as found by Dr. Norm Garrick at UConn lose population, employment, and their character. Not just the loss from parking, but from the gutting of the city by the Interstate System. Here are some slides from Dr. Garrick showing the destruction. When he toggled through the first time, the room I was in audibly gasped for air.

Hartford Pre Interstate

Hartford Post Interstate

So what's the damage? The amount of tax creating employment did not grow and parking spots skyrocketed.

So in aggregate what did this look like? The red shows it all:

Lost revenue, lost agglomeration, lost value. Will these examples teach us a lesson about too much parking? Perhaps


Randy Simes said...

Wow, that first image of Houston is jaw-dropping. The issue you examined in Hartford, CT seems to be fairly representative of most American cities. Thank goodness things have started to change, but we need to do more...much more in order to reclaim our cities.

W. K. Lis said...

Size is important, not. In Europe, they use narrower fire engines than in North America. This makes response time longer in N.A. because their widths, they can't squeeze between lanes of traffic as easier as the European trucks.

Andy Chow said...

It is not just parking, but the freeway themselves create a barrier against transit use. By a simple view on Google Maps to European and Chinese cities, you can see that those cities have rail transit into the city center whereas the inter-city freeways are located a couple of miles from the city center. So in those case, you can drive to the city center but not on freeway all the way. In those cases, traveling by local transit would be as competitive as driving.

In North America, we like freeways to be in and through downtown, and cut between the main train stations and the downtown businesses. Some of the cities aren't damaged by freeways (Palo Alto, Berkeley, Santa Cruz in the Bay Area) are doing just as well with higher transit ridership and able to preserve the community character.

Cavan said...

Andy, we don't need to compare with the Europeans. We can just compare Washington to Atlanta and New York to Los Angeles.

arcady said...

It's not for me to say whether the net result was a destruction of value, but there was definitely a transfer of wealth going on there. As downtown land became devalued by this profusion of parking, suburban land became more valuable. Thus, wealth was transfered from downtown landowners to suburban land speculators who were subdividing farmland for development, and were thus rewarded for the hard work of lobbying the government to spend taxpayer money to build freeways out to their land.

Mooney said...

I'm not sure that comparing NYC to LA is a good fit seeing that LA's central business and cultural core which extends from its downtown west out to Santa Monica does not have continuous freeway run through. This is akin to NYC's Manhattan area which as has highways/expressways lining its core but not continually running through. Also much of the City Of LA was built up prior to WWII and shortly thereafter excluding the San Fernando Valley which is a poster child for mid century suburban planning.

pc said...

People sometimes forget that there's a reason why people want to drive somewhere in the first place -- and it's not to park their cars. (Well, except for drive-in movies.)

peasepress said...

Many years ago, my grandfather took dance lessons in downtown Hartford, and stayed for the evening class because the instructor needed more guys. That's how he met my grandma.

It would be a lot harder today - A few years ago I went looking for lively commercial streets in and around Hartford and could hardly find anything. Downtown was an island of tall buildings, the statehouse is surrounded by freeways, and the big central park is eaten up by boulevards. Never mind getting to the river.

A peculiar localism was that kids had discovered that if you throw parking lot gravel at the (few) adjacent buildings it lodges in the Dryvit siding.

[I apologize if this is a repost - I'm pretty sure my first attempt didn't go through]

5chw4r7z said...

The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup, an urban planning professor at UCLA.

He reports that in 2002 between $127 billion and $374 billion a year was spent nationally to subsidize off-street parking, as much as the U.S. spent on Medicare or national defense that year combined.

Myriam Mahiques said...

Excellent post, thank you
Thoughts on Architecture and Urbanism

Ilan said...

It would be interesting to compare the density / land use changes on the remaining sites (i.e sites not developed for parking), pre and post interstate. Good follow-up post

stines said...

What's amazing is how Downtown Houston looks now compared to then. The photo crops out the densest area (to the NW), which still contains many of the historic "skyscrapers". Despite a decent amount of parking, Downtown still has densified tremendously, especially towards the Pierce Elevated. I'm just wondering how this compares to other "bombed" downtowns.

Sidenote: being a ped in downtown takes a modicum of attention to the parking garage exits. It's almost as bad as crossing a street without a light.

Jardinero1 said...

The essay presupposes that downtown Houston is stagnant or dying and that freeways are to blame. In support of the argument the author shows a thirty year old photo of some empty lots which are being used for ground level parking.

The facts and the argument are wholly incorrect. Downtown Houston employs more today than at any time in its history. Total square footage leased is greater, ergo downtown is denser. There are also more people residing downtown than at any time in history... in spite of the freeways. So what to make of the empty lots. How do you explain what happened to all the buildings that once stood there?

Asbestos, inadequate wiring/utilities, and qualitatively changed demand for office space destroyed those buildings. The structures were small, filled with asbestos and inadequately wired for the electronic era. Downtown renters also require more space at one address than when those buildings were constructed. When those buildings could not be renovated or leased they came down. They were replaced by taller, higher density construction.

Daniel Sparing said...

I am clearly a bit late catching up on my RSS but these first two photos are amazing.

Do you know the approximate location maybe of the Houston photo (so I can try to find on gmaps)? thanks!

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

It's downtown looking Southeast from where US59 crosses Buffalo Bayou. You can still see the church and the big black building today but its filled in with the baseball stadium and other things.