Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

30 September, 2007

Park this

Those who've known me for awhile are aware that I harbor no small amount of animosity towards the automobile, primarily because of its environmental impacts. It was never the greenhouse emissions that resulted from internal combustion, however, that fed my dislike. Rather, it was the heinous impacts on land use that really drove me nuts. The impact of the automobile on suburban sprawl is well known. Likewise, the answer to traffic congestion is reflexively, "Build more roads!" But as Katherine Mieszkowski writes in Salon, the gratuitous need for more and more parking might just be the biggest abomination of automotive transportation.
It's a self-perpetuating cycle. As parking lots proliferate, they decrease density and increase sprawl. In 1961, when the city of Oakland, Calif., started requiring apartments to have one parking space per apartment, housing costs per apartment increased by 18 percent, and urban density declined by 30 percent. It's a pattern that's spread across the country.

In cities, the parking lots themselves are black holes in the urban fabric, making city streets less walkable. One landscape architect compares them to "cavities" in the cityscape. Downtown Albuquerque, N.M., now devotes more land to parking than all other land uses combined. Half of downtown Buffalo, N.Y., is devoted to parking. And one study of Olympia, Wash., found that parking and driveways occupied twice as much land as the buildings that they served.

The article's a very interesting read and does a great job discussing the hidden costs of free parking. Some cities are taking action to reign in the proliferation of empty lots around massive structures, but it remains to be seen if the tide of blacktop can be turned. In the meantime, take the bus or ride a bike (preferably one that you haven't stolen from me).

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