Write Your Local Paper to end parking minimums

We hope many of you are spurred to action during this week of #BlackFridayParking. One of the ways to get your voice heard is through your local paper. You'd be surprised by the impact of a letter. We have Strong Towns members who were able to shift the direction of planning decisions in their cities because they spoke up with a blog post or letter.

We encourage you to look into the parking minimums laws in your city and write your local paper about ending them, especially if there is a pertinent piece of local legislation up for discussion. With Black Friday fast approaching, your local paper is probably going to be publishing a few stories about hasty shoppers running each other over to get to the latest Xbox. Why not give them something better and more productive to share?

A few tips for writing your letter:

  1. Be specific. Your letter will have the most potential to seed change if it is written in response to a current event. It could be a piece of legislation being discussed by your government. It could be a new development in the works. Use local examples to bring your point home, especially examples that your paper has already covered.
  2. Include photos. Ray Ott, a planner who helped end parking minimums in downtown Phoenixville, PA recommends including graphics or photos (you can usually just pull them from Google maps and your town's historic archives for free) of what your town used to look like decades ago, compared with how it looks now, when dominated by parking lots. At Strong Towns, we know the power of photos too. After #BlackFridayParking, you'll have plenty of photos to choose from. Just make sure to ask permission if you borrow someone else's from social media.
  3. Follow the rules. Look at your local paper's policies on sending letters to the editor including length, who to send it to, etc. and heed those. You're much more likely to get published if you follow your paper's protocol.

The following Strong Towns articles might be helpful to share and link to, to explain the problem of parking minimums:

Here's a letter template to get you started:

Dear Editor,

As our government currently considers the proposal to welcome a new JC Penney on Fifth Street and Hamilton Ave, it concerns me that the amount of parking included in this proposal is not being taken into account. The construction of this new, outsider business will necessitate the demolition of two historic buildings near our downtown in order to build a large parking lot with 70 spaces.

Fifty years ago we had a thriving downtown with successful small businesses. During the last several decades, that downtown has been overtaken by surface parking lots. This is due in large part to the parking minimums written into our development code (Ord. 2812). Such laws decrease economic activity in our town and have resulted in a city that is dominated by parking lots instead of viable businesses.

Another ill effect of our parking minimum law is that it has created high barriers to entry for new businesses that cannot afford to pay for large parking lots. For example, did you know that a new 1,000 square foot café in our downtown would have to build or pay for five parking spots on top of its many other start-up costs? This is preposterous, especially since our downtown is within walking distance of hundreds of homes and dozens of offices—all of which would provide patrons for that business and would have no need of parking. In addition, our downtown has abundant on-street parking.

I urge our legislators and leaders to modify Ord. 2812 to eliminate parking minimums in this town. Cities from Austin to Portland to Miami have all taken similar actions and seen positive results.

Do we want our town to be an area full of chain businesses and enormous parking lots? Or do we want our town to be an active, prosperous place where local businesses thrive and community grows?


Concerned Citizen

Feel free to use any language in this, substituting your local issues for the ones mentioned here. Happy writing! And make sure to let us know about positive changes that result from your activism.