An empty mall parking lot.

An empty mall parking lot.

It is interesting to look back and read what people thought a couple generations ago and how their thinking shapes our world today.

The American Planning Association, in honor of the history of their Planning Advisory Service, is presenting a new report each month from their archives. The latest, from January 1954, details site design, parking and zoning recommendations for the craze of the era: shopping centers.

Understanding this was the beginning of the heyday of relevance and influence of the planning profession -- a 15 to 20 year period that ended with the failures of urban renewal, the natural trajectory of this intellectual mentality -- it's fascinating to read the logic employed here.

For example, it's clear already by 1954 that planners know more than developers and must righteously defend the public good.

The shopper wants a space he can find easily, with a minimum of difficulty in moving around the parking area, and one that is located near the store or store group in which he is going to shop. The fault is sometimes with the developers who have underestimated the need for parking space or found the land too valuable to be devoted to parking.

Those greedy developers! How terrible of them to think of things like the value of land. It's so sad that, even then, planners seemed to think that convenient parking and not land values would determine the future prosperity of a place.

Of course, there are also some instances of great insight that seem to have been lost over the years. For example, parking ratios for suburban shopping malls may not apply to urban shopping centers:

...there will be more walk-in business in a neighborhood shopping center than in a community or regional shopping center, and therefore the smaller center will not require proportionately as much off-street parking space as the large center.

And then there is the acknowledgement that the data set for making all those technical parking projections is ridiculously small and really not reliable.

We must disabuse the reader in advance of any hope of great accuracy in the statistics. The number of parking spaces, and the rental sales area were checked in two sources for a few of the centers. The figures which were checked varied from 10 to 90 per cent.

But then there is this that puts everything into perspective for the next sixty years.

Can you have too much parking?

We know of no existing center that has too much parking. Some parking spaces it is true are not economically used, due to their distant location from the stores. The poorly located spaces would be used more frequently if they were more conveniently located.

Most planners I meet today get how messed up our approach to parking is and are working to change it in their cities. Most zoners I meet would read this technical paper and seek to apply its findings in rote form to their community, not realizing (or perhaps not caring even if they did) that it is over 60 years old.

Don't be a zoner.