Will the Underdeveloped World Allow Parking to Destroy its Downtowns?
Traffic and parking are a mess in most underdeveloped countries. Try to navigate Mumbai, Bangkok, Sao Paulo or virtually any Chinese city and you will agree. The local governments are jumping on the bandwagon to require parking when new businesses open up. And they do so at their peril.
Paul Barter over at Reinventing Parking has a great post where he uses a seven year old piece to prove a point about what has happened to many central cities in the US and how parking requirements have made it virtually impossible for downtown area to renew and prosper. Check it out.
There are a couple of problems with the Planetzen piece Paul links, the major one is that the author feels that the solution to problems is public provided parking (either on or off street) and that this should be paid for by local merchants by taxing them for the parking spaces they aren’t required to have. (Peter Guest comments on the fiasco this caused in the UK in June’s PT, on the streets – or at least the ‘net — next week.)
I tend to agree with Don Shoup that the free market is the best approach here. If parking is needed, and if the on street spaces are properly priced, then off street garages would be a viable commercial venture and the local city need not be involved. However if private business must compete with taxpayer subsidized or free parking supplied by the city, there is no reason for the private sector to move in and provide the service.
If the off street parking pricing is set at say $3 an hour and the local merchants feel that is too much, they can validate parking charges and pay them themselves, but that is a price they pay relating directly to people coming into their place of business, and not a requirement they must pay if the local government is in charge.
Patrons will drift toward the businesses that validate, and they will prosper, providing ‘free’ parking just like the shopping malls provide ‘free’ parking. Wouldn’t one prefer to stroll along avenues lined with shops, restaurants and clubs each with its own unique tone and flavor, than be stuck in a mall where all the restaurants are the same and often there are two or three of the same exact stores cheek by jowl. I know I would.
Plus small merchants, mom and pop, who provide personal service would be able to afford the small shops that are now boarded up in downtown areas. Parking requirements often prevent them from seeking out these locations.
Hopefully other countries will go slow on minimum parking requirements and take Paul’s advice and not make the same mistakes city planners in the US did 75 or 100 years ago.