Or Is It Just Changing, Like Everything Else?
September 5, 2017
Tony Jordan makes some good points, but let’s not panic quite yet.
He talks about a dystopian future, one that looks like “Blade Runner” crossed with the Borg. Cities that are all about urban sprawl (bad) and tightly knit transport-focused areas with high-rise apartments, walk to work and play environments (good) where no individual vehicles are needed.
What if I don’t want to raise my kids in center cities? What if I want to live in the ’burbs with my quarter acre, some grass, a fenced yard for my dog, and a place to BBQ my burgers? Has anyone, particularly the master planners, asked me where I want to live and how I want to live?
As I wrote in my blog a few weeks ago, we have all heard the harbingers of doom who predict the end of our industry as we know it. Why? Because millennials are all forsaking their lives in the burbs and moving to the big city. In doing so, they aren’t buying cars (don’t need ’em, live near work), so they don’t need any place to park them. Yikes.
However, my buddy Brandy Stanley in Las Vegas sent me an article from The New York Times that puts the lie to this myth.
It seems that with the exception of about 10 urban areas, folks are not moving to the cities but, to the contrary, are living in the ’burbs. Urban planners and prognosticators live in large cities and see anecdotal information, so they start down the road of the self-fulfilling prophecy. However, ask the post office who is getting all that mail, and they tell a different story.
The graphs in the Times article show that although New York, Chicago and Seattle downtowns are becoming denser, places such as Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and Austin are not, and by quite a large margin. Folks in these cities and many more like them still need cars to get to work and, yes, a place to park them.
When I last heard this myth, it was being spread by a real estate agent in Chicago who said people and companies were abandoning those mid-rise complexes around O’Hare airport and moving downtown. So they could live work and play within walking distance. The ’burbs were history. And that was 10 years ago!
It may be true in Chicago, but it isn’t most
So, are Americans in “Flyover Country” different? Maybe so. Folks in Tony’s Portland, OR, want to live in compact cities, while residents of Las Vegas, Oklahoma City or Orlando are moving back to the ’burbs. Rather than look at this as the horror of horrors ̶ and the need for light rail, autonomous buses and ever-present Uber and Lyft ̶ maybe we need to take a deep breath and ask a different question.
Do Americans, in general, want to live like Europeans in small apartments in compact cities, or do they want, in general, to live in suburbs with a little space that they can call their own? And while they do it, will they want to have a car they can call their own, too?
Tony looked out his window and saw what was happening in Portland. On a recent weekend, I drove from LA to Temecula, CA, and saw a wasted desert that had been turned into homes for a quarter of a million people. The four-bedroom home in Murrieta or Temecula on its quarter acre cost about $250,000. The same house in Portland, Seattle, Silicon Valley, Santa Monica, New York, DC or Boston would come in somewhere north of $2 million.
The facts are that people aren’t moving to center cities in droves, but are, in fact, moving out. The suburban lifestyles with parks, good schools, soccer moms and scout troops still seem to be attractive.
The automobile industry had its best year ever last year. Someone is buying those cars. Tony wants to put bus drivers, Lyft drivers, and the rest out of work (autonomous vehicles).
My friend in New York City, who lives in the Village, told me that, yes, people don’t start out owning cars in the city, but as soon as they have a baby, they buy a car. When you have a young family, look in the back of your car. Where are you going to put all that stuff if you use Uber and Lyft?
Rick Caruso, a major developer here in LA, said that he is “rethinking” parking, but he is still building it. He is building garages that can be converted if the world changes to where parking isn’t so important.
Some aspects of our industry have been affected by Uber and Lyft – can you say airports and hotels? I rent much less often when I travel than in years past. Lyft has made a difference.
But other aspects are booming. Try to find a parking space in downtown Chicago or Manhattan. I had to walk blocks to a parking space when I went to downtown LA for jury duty last month.
In June, I was in Austin attending a “Smart Cities” conference. The folks from Portland had a booth. I went up to them and asked about the parking component for smart cities. I was told that they don’t want parking, cars or anything like it. I got the definite impression I wasn’t welcome. Pretty much tells it all, doesn’t it?
John Van Horn, Editor of Parking Today, at