Strong Towns member Jonathan Holth enjoying an abundance of parking in downtown Grand Forks.

Strong Towns member Jonathan Holth enjoying an abundance of parking in downtown Grand Forks.

This week we've been focusing on the issue of parking culminating with our #BlackFridayParking event. We hope you will join us Friday by:

  1. Taking photos of the parking lots in your city.
  2. Sharing the photos online with the hashtag #blackfridayparking.
  3. Sharing our message with others.

I'm going to paraphrase a line of questioning I've received a few times in the past.

Chuck, I love what you are doing with #BlackFridayParking but, seriously, what good is it to take pictures of empty parking lots? We need parking maximums otherwise the big retailers are just going to keep building more and more.

We're not advocating for parking maximums, although I'm sympathetic to the sentiment. What we are trying to do this week is expand the dialog on parking and give those who want to push back against absurd parking requirements more tools to do so. For every place in this country that would even consider a parking maximum, there are hundreds where the simple step of repealing parking minimums would be considered an act of revolution.

Having parking maximums in place is not going to help you in any substantive way.

And while I'm sympathetic to the notion of parking maximums, I'm not sold on the concept. Yes, national retailers with their financing model are going to always want bizarre amounts of parking. If you're doing the math on these kind of places, you're not building more of them anyway. And if you're not doing the math rigorously with your development review process, that's actually a more urgent problem than parking. Having maximums in place is not going to help you in any substantive way.

From a pure market standpoint, if national retailers in their big boxes and strip malls want to waste their money on parking spaces they will never use, I'm not going to lose a lot of sleep. Sure, there are aesthetic and environmental concerns but, if those were a priority, you would deal with those irrespective of parking. Trying to kill a big box store with a parking regulation is like trying to cut down a tree with a blunt knife. You're going to spend a lot of energy in what is likely a futile effort. In the end, you're more likely to lose an appendage in the struggle than your adversary.

Ending Parking Minimums

More than impairing the big dogs with maximum parking regulations, we urgently need to rid ourselves of parking minimums as part of an ongoing effort to clear obstacles from the path of the small artist, retailer or developer that is trying to bootstrap the next increment of success. We're going to get a lot further in our effort to make the incremental model successful than we'll ever get trying to regulate our orderly but dumb model out of existence. It's trying to die; just get out of the way and let it happen.

Professor Shoup's advice is a practical guide for nearly every North American city: Charge the right price for parking at the curb, use that money to make ongoing improvements to the quality of life on that street and rid yourselves of off-street parking requirements. Those are policies that most thoughtful people could agree should be used by the city up road. We just need people to start seeing themselves in this same way.