By Dom Nozzi
In the late 1990s, I was asked about my thoughts regarding the proposal to add more parking in the Gainesville FL town center (via a parking garage).
I pointed out that in my opinion, many mistakenly believe that the health of the town center is determined by having “sufficient” parking in the town center. Such thinking fails to understand that too much town center parking is one of the most effective recipes for killing the vibrancy and health of a town center. And nearly all town centers already have way too much parking, despite the near universal (and false) belief that the town center has too little parking, and needs more.
With too much parking, there will be that much less reason for people to visit (or live in) the town center. If the town center has attractive features (an arts fest, a critical mass of restaurants and bars, cultural activities), people will quickly and relatively easily figure out a way to get to the town center.
The risk for most town centers is that those seeking to improve it will suboptimize on parking (i.e., put all of its eggs in the “parking” basket to the detriment of other essential objectives) and reduce the number of features that would make the town center an attractor. Cities like Buffalo and Houston, for example, have plenty of town center parking. But now that most of the town center of these two cities is surface parking, who the hell wants to go there? Or live there?
An astonishing irony in all of this was that an allegedly “pro-business,” “pro-free enterprise” elected city commissioner for Gainesville opposed wrapping the first floor of the proposed new parking garage with retail businesses. He wanted the garage to be designed for nothing except parking cars.
We pour millions of dollars of public subsidies into making suburban motorists happy, and do away with an opportunity to get more bang from our public buck by creating business opportunities in such a public welfare building???
This from a “pro-business” person?
I was not totally opposed to the new garage. Parking garages are much preferable for a town center than surface parking lots, as less of the very scarce town center land needs to be deadened per parking space (because the spaces are stacked), and the opportunity to wrap the garage with retail is certainly better than the surface parking lot that is normally unable to provide such a benefit. In addition, a well-designed parking garage can make new, high-density residential and retail development more feasible. Most town centers desperately need more housing and retail vibrancy.
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
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