Systemic Racism Affects Everything, Parking is No Exception
How does parking policy and the parking industry intersect with systemic racism and inequity towards BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities? To answer this question we first have to acknowledge that systemic racism has shaped and impacted nearly all our institutions, markets, and policies in America.
It is difficult for most people to consider changing systems that they have benefitted from, and these are complex challenges, with no single solution.
This doesn’t mean that any particular person is an overt racist for participating in or benefiting from the situation we are in now, but it is increasingly difficult to claim ignorance of the fact that white people have benefited disproportionately from our nation’s power and wealth. If we’re going to correct these inequities then we must all examine our own actions and consider whether they are helpful, harmful, or neutral toward the goal of a just and equal society.
At the Parking Reform Network, we have been thinking a lot about how our work should be informed by the Black Lives Matter movement and, more specifically, discussions in the planning and transportation world, like the Untokening, which have explored the ways public planning processes have, historically, marginalized non-white communities. For the parking industry to avoid exacerbating or perpetuating these harms, work must be done to ensure that BIPOC voices are present and listened to in every sector of the industry. This includes in focus groups, stakeholder committees, planning staff, conference panels, and corporate management and leadership.
But there are also specific examples of parking related policy which is racist either in genesis or impact. Minimum parking requirements, on-street parking management and allocation, and the impact of parking enforcement are perhaps the most obvious.
Parking Reform Network member and researcher Eduardo Mendoza has been studying the evolution of single-family zoning in Los Angeles and believes we can see a progression from the first zoning laws in the late 1890’s through the appearance of redlining in the 1930s and beyond.
“The first parking minimums in Los Angeles came around 1930 and they only applied to larger buildings with over 20 units. Los Angeles demographics were changing considerably during this time, bringing in hundreds of thousands of new residents, a great proportion of them being foreign born immigrants. The city had relatively liberal zoning that allowed for apartment construction in the great majority of residentially zoned land.
Real estate developers feared that too much apartment construction would hurt their bottom line and reduce profits across the entire sector. (“A Note of Warning to Builders,” Apartment House Journal, May 1926, 3-4.) There was fear that the newly constructed apartments would become future slums, or housing for undesired populations (Gish 67). Therefore all new construction needed to be of the highest quality and cater to only specific demographics of people.
As noted in 1935 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation redlining maps, there was a fear that the densest most affluent areas in Los Angeles were already beginning to suffer from a “considerable” subversive infiltration of non-white population (Map C115 Los Angeles California 1935). In 1931 the Los Angeles planning Commission promoted lot line measures that were aimed at preventing new apartment construction from becoming affordable enough to become “hand me down” properties that would eventually lure in future Jewish, Italian, or even Black tenants.
Were minimum parking requirements simply a response to new demand for car storage or were they intended to raise the cost of apartment buildings born and developed from xenophobic, classist, and racist intentions?”
In more recent times, minimum parking requirements have been employed by exclusive communities to make the building of affordable or subsidized housing impractical. Donald Shoup explains in the High Cost of Free Parking:
“Even though lower-income households own fewer cars, few cities reduce the parking requirements for low-income housing. Some cities deliberately set high parking requirements to exclude low income housing. … Because different ethnic groups have different rates of car ownership, parking requirements affect these groups differently.” (Shoup; The High Cost of Free Parking, p. 166, American Planning Association, 2011)
We can also find bias in how we choose to allocate and manage our on-street resources. When we create car-dependent communities we impose an unfair burden on communities which have access to fewer cars. Parking Reform Network member and journalist for Streetsblog Chicago, Courtney Cobbs, has written extensively on this topic:
“The fact that the city [of Chicago] has prioritized free storage of empty vehicles over providing safe biking infrastructure or bus-only lanes compounds inequities because it deprives people of a safe alternative to the bus or train or creates unnecessarily long commutes for transit dependent populations.”
Many of the policies parking reformers suggest include managing on-street parking supply with meters or permits. We must recognize that charging for parking will impact communities differently and that in cities where BIPOC residents have been displaced due to gentrification, they may be living in areas with greater automobile dependency and have fewer options to avoid paying for parking. Furthermore, parking tickets and fines can lead to cars being impounded, warrants and interactions with police, and people being referred to collection agencies.
Cobbs recommends redistributing parking revenues and pursuing more equitable fee structures while ensuring that parking tickets don’t push people down the path to financial disaster. One equitable fee structure idea would be to base on-street parking permits off of vehicle value. This way owners of luxury vehicles are not charged the same rate as someone with an older or more modest vehicle. Also, some households own multiple vehicles - perhaps increasing the cost of additional vehicle permits might make sense. Another approach in areas experiencing gentrification could be to “grandfather” permit prices for long-term residents and increase permit fees for new residents.
Driveways in parking-strained cities are another equity concern when curb space is limited. A driveway takes away a shared space for a private vehicle use, and private users should pay for that luxury. An annual fee for curbside use might encourage some people who only use their garage for storage to remove the curb cut and return the space to shared use.
It is difficult for most people to consider changing systems that they have benefitted from, and these are complex challenges, with no single solution. The first step is to listen to the concerns of people who have suffered under racism in America without being dismissive or defensive. We will be exploring this topic further on our blog at https://parkingreform.org/ and we encourage you to keep an open mind and keep learning.
Tony Jordan is Founder and President of the Parking Reform Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Courtney Cobbs is Sustainable Transportation Visionary and Assistant Editor for Streetsblog Chicago. She can be reached at email@example.com; Eduardo Mendoza is a Researcher at Parking Reform Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org