It all depends on who is looking.

This week is the one year anniversary of my wife and I purchasing a home in North Brainerd and moving our family from a suburban 5-acre lot to the middle of town. I knew this would be a great move and it has not disappointed. It's been twelve months of fantastic and my only frustration is that we weren't able to pull it off sooner.

There is one thing, however, that has been a source of tension and it has to do with parking. We have a half-alley (it has a dead end) where there are two parking spots although, when we both use them, it makes getting in and out a challenge. We also have lots of on-street parking, and by lots I mean hardly anyone parks on the street. The street rarely has any cars at all parked along it.

I like parking in the street. Someone in my household who will remain unnamed does not like me parking on the street but prefers I park in the alley. I've been told it is a matter of aesthetics.

At first I assumed -- incorrectly -- that the problem was with my vehicle. I drive a 2004 Honda Element. It is orange in color. It has 280,000 miles, a couple mild dents and a cracked windshield. An unnamed person in my family has called it a "clown car" among other things. To have such a vehicle parked in front of our house perhaps sends the wrong signal to some people tuned into that type of thing. I thought that might be the problem, but no.

Yesterday in Brainerd was the annual Arts in the Park. I really love it -- we used to drive in to go to it -- and now we can just walk over. It's only a block and a half away. We were even having extended family come over for lunch and they were all going to head over there too. For timing reasons we went to church on the other side of town and so as we're getting home from mass, reality sets in. 

The streets are no longer empty. There is no longer a pair of parking spaces right in front of our house. And now the block is -- according to the person who shall not be named -- a lot uglier.

For me -- and I'm a simple man in this setting -- it was rather nice to see the streets in my neighborhood lined with cars. The cars provide a barricade between the speeding vehicles and the sidewalk where today lots more people than just me and my family were walking. Also, the lack of wide open space has a calming effect on traffic. Not only does a wall of steel protect me while I walk, but the cars that threaten are forced to drive much slower (and be less threatening as a result). I loved it, but that was not a feeling universally embraced in my household.

It reminded me of an interview I did a couple years ago with a former Brainerd city council member. During that interview, I brought up how much we -- the taxpayers of the city -- pay for on-street parking that, except on rare occasions, is never used. My lament is that, while we're going bankrupt as a city and struggling for neighborhood investment, we both (a) invest millions in on street parking while (b) requiring everyone to provide their own (expensive) off-street parking. This seems silly since there is always -- ALWAYS -- lots of on-street parking available. Couldn't we at least stop requiring off-street parking?

I had no response to his answer, which struck me as bizarre: He said he liked the look. He said that he liked the look of a street that didn't have any cars parked along it. I didn't understand and, in my engineer/planner ways, I thought he actually meant he liked the look of the street. The space between the curbs. It wasn't until a conversation I had today with a person who will not be named that I started to understand that it wasn't a view of the streets he liked. It was the view of the yards.

So let's say you are driving down the street and there are no cars parked along it. Now let's also say that you and your neighbors have spent a lot of time and energy making the front yards look nice -- some pretty flowers, some nice furniture on the porch, tightly mowed grass -- and you have some pride in that. Well, with no parked cars, here is the view you are going to see (at 30 mph, mind you):

Now, let's take that same street and instead line it with parked cars. Same scenario -- beautiful yards and lots of pride in the work done to make them that way -- only now this is the same view.

Alright. I think we have an understanding here and I can state it very clearly: For people who drive through the neighborhood, it is much more aesthetically pleasing, and provides a way better view of the beautiful homes and yards, if there are no parked cars blocking the sight lines. That is especially true if the car blocking the view is orange, beat up and kinda looks like it should be used to transport clowns.

To expand on that understanding: For people walking through the neighborhood, it is much more enjoyable to have traffic operating at slow speeds and to have a buffer of parked cars between the sidewalk and the moving traffic than the opposite. Either way, for those on foot, the view of the beautiful homes and well-maintained yards is the same.

So it really all depends on whose eyes we look through.

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