By Dom Nozzi
In August of 2007, I had a conversation with my young niece about a critique she sent me about a parking essay she had seen that I had written.
I am honored and flattered that you have sent me such a thoughtful, helpful critique about my essay. My responses to you are interspersed in your comments below.
Tammy: Hey Uncle Dom. It is your niece Tammy. I read your article that was in the newspaper. That was great! You put a lot of thought into that.
Dom: Thank you for the nice compliment. The essay was a pleasure to write — particularly because my employer (the City of Gainesville) lacks the wisdom, leadership and courage to allow me to say such things locally. Yes, I put a lot of thought into the issue. To me, parking is so very important to how cities are developed and the quality of life we have. I enjoy reading articles about parking. Jane Holtz Kay once said that “the more parking space, the less sense of place.” I heartily agree. Victor Dover, who wrote the preface to my first book, has said that “parking is like a narcotic and should be a controlled substance. It is addictive and one can never have enough.”
Tammy: Your Dad said that I should share my views about the article so you could take a look and review them. I like the way you started the article with the questions. “What is our vision for downtown?” was a great question. I recommended that the end of the article should refer back to that question with the answer something to do with parking. We definitely need to understand the three things about downtowns. Those were major points.
Dom: That is an excellent point, Tammy. I regret not properly using that wise writing tactic. I think an important reason I did not use the strategy you suggest is that, as is often the case, the newspaper editor insisted that I limit the essay to a TINY number of words. I therefore needed to be as brief as possible in what I said.
Tammy: When referring to them later in the article, I lost what you were talking about when you said legs because that was not the term used previously.
Dom: Yes, this is another good point that you make. Had I been allowed to write a longer essay, I would have mentioned the “three legs” earlier, and explained what it means. The concept is commonly used. It refers to a three-legged stool. The stool falls down and does not work properly unless each of the three legs is there. It is a useful metaphor for a great many things. Indeed, a rule of thumb is that it is a good idea to try to condense, for your audience, major concepts by referring to the three major elements (people tend to forget elements if there are more than three).
Tammy: “Pedestrian habitat is very important to attract more people.” Great detail added!
Dom: Thank you. Yes, I strongly agree. In fact, I often point out that the pedestrian is the design imperative. If we design properly for pedestrians (mostly by designing compact, human-scaled places), a lot of things inherently fall into place and we are effectively able to achieve a high quality of life. A tragedy in America is that the pedestrian is forgotten, and the pedestrian environment is therefore quite awful. Have you browsed my walkablestreets.com website? At the top are links to important pedestrian ideas.
Tammy: 15% open parking spaces for motorists would most definitely attract others. It was hard for me to understand how that could be achieved if the many parking garages now were eliminated. I would think that would create a “lack of parking” as you called it.
Dom: The key to understanding this is that providing more parking spaces is not the only way to have available, unoccupied parking spaces (it is also an ineffective way, as Dover points out in my comment above). A much more effective way to have available, unoccupied parking spaces is to PRICE the parking. If a downtown has no available, unoccupied parking spaces, an effective way to create available parking is NOT to provide more parking. It is to charge a price for it. For example, if it costs $2 an hour to park in a space (instead of that space being free of charge), a lot of people will decide it is not worth parking there (especially if they are wanting to engage in a “low value” activity, such as renting a video at rush hour). Only the people who have “higher value” activities to attend to, such as parking to go to a job interview, will be willing to pay $2 an hour. That means that those priced spaces will often be available, because only a smaller number of motorists will want to use it.
Note also that I don’t necessarily recommend “eliminating” parking garages. Garages are much better than surface parking lots because they take up less space, and the less space taken up by cars being parked, the more quality we have for pedestrians. Like other parking, though, garage spaces should be properly priced so that they are not free to use. “Lack of parking” is a perception that is created by improperly pricing the parking in a downtown. If parking spaces are free, they are “overused” by motorists engaged in low-value trips (renting a video, for example). So even if we eliminate all parking garages (which I don’t recommend we do), there wouldn’t be a “lack of parking” problem IF we priced the non-garage parking spaces properly. The key is to figure out what the proper price would be. Like Goldilocks, the price cannot be too low or too high. It must be “just right.”
Tammy: I liked how you used the horse before the cart. Great comparison! When I was in NYC, there were parking garages that you pull in and the cars are taken up in an elevator. I assume that you were referring to something like that in your article.
Dom: Yes, I know about those kinds of stacked parking garages. They are preferable to conventional garages because they take up less space. A problem is that they are relatively expensive. As a result, they tend to be most likely to be used in bigger cities where the value of property is very, very high — such as in NYC.
Tammy: I also heard that you had a new book out. Your father wanted to know what the title is and what it is about.
Dom: My second book is forthcoming. It has not been published yet. I will be sending out the manuscript to publishers soon to try to find one who is willing to publish it. The tentative title is “The Car is the Enemy of the City.” The book is similar to my first book, but goes into greater detail about why the over-emphasis on cars (and pampering them) is ruinous to a city.
Today, the biggest threat to cities and our quality of life is a disease I call “Gigantism.” Because cars take up so much space, we are building our communities with spaces and structures that are WAY too big for people to feel comfortable with. Huge parking lots, huge roads, huge intersections, and communities that are several miles wide are simply too big for people. All of the places we love are small, human-scaled, charming, romantic places we enjoy visiting as tourists.
Tragically, almost all of the communities in America have forgotten the design tradition. Instead of the timeless tradition of designing to make people happy, we design to make cars happy. The result is that things are too big. And the quality of life in communities, consequently, suffers immensely.