Can a proper parking program “revitalize” downtown? NO!
I spoke to a municipal parking manager the other day and he told me that in his community there wasn’t enough parking downtown and the core was dying. They claimed they needed a new parking structure. He did a study and found that there were a lot of unused spaces so he set up a permit program, sold permits to the merchants, moved them to streets away from the downtown core, and voila the downtown started to grow. Revitalization thanks to parking?
I am the last one to take credit away when it is due, but did this relatively simple solution really do the trick? It doesn’t seem reasonable to me.
I am a “if you built it they will come” kind of guy. All the free or even available parking on the planet will not get people to go somewhere if there is no other reason for them to go. Conversely, they will park in the mud and walk through a driving rain to see their team play.
Take Old Pasadena as an example – This was the “skid row” area of Pasadena, CA. No one went there. It was a mess. They began a pay parking program and a couple of years later it was the go to area in Los Angeles. So – parking was responsible for the rebirth. Not really. Parking provided the money. The money provided urban renewal. And suddenly trendy shops and restaurants found a place to locate. THEN people started coming to Old Pasadena.
I don’t know any facts about the situation mentioned above, but things work in tandem. Parking is an important factor, but so is the street scene, or the entertainment factor, or the mix of stores and clubs and restaurants. Can I sit and watch the world go by? Is there a world going by to watch? Are there nooks and crannies where I can be alone, and benches where my friend and I can sit in the sun?
Are the sidewalks broken, the streets dirty? Are the shops inviting, are there a lot of empty stores? Is every other shop a wig store or run by the Salvation Army?
Parking is a factor, an important factor, but not the only factor. A huge garage may with plenty of parking may not be ‘right’ for the neighborhood when there are tons of on street parking that just needs to be managed.
Yes, the parking professional needs to be able to sit at the table with the other merchants and planners but it should not be expected that his or her actions will solve all a communities’ problems.